Friday, March 11, 2005

Whose air is it anyway

Jonathan Rowe, On the Commons, ponders the questions of increasingly widespread use of illegal mobile phone jamming devices.

"I love tools. I stop at hardware stores sometimes just to look at them. The utter economy of a screwdriver and hammer feels almost cleansing in a society built upon diseconomy and waste.

Technology is another matter. Technology is what happens when the tool becomes the task, rather than just a means of doing the task. Usually it doesn’t so much solve problems as shift them around and create new ones. Cars, televisions, cell phones – we all could make a list.

Did I say cell phones? They are a prime example, but also the cause of a technology that I am rooting for these days. It is cell phone jammers, which, according to the New York Post, “are selling like hotcakes on the streets of New York.” The headline on the story was a tabloid classic: “Shut the Cell Up.”

It’s not just individuals who are buying the jammers. Restaurants and schools are buying them too (Profs are getting fed up with students who tap away on phones during class.) Catholic priests use them to shut up the ringers during mass...

In a rare display of good sense, the Federal Communications Commission has determined it has bigger fish to fry, and no one has been prosecuted to date. Still, the very existence of the law is instructive, especially the premise that underlies it. The government contends that since telecom corporations have paid money for the spectrum over which the cell phone chatter passes, to silence the phones is to rob these corporations of something they own. They own the air, so they get to fill the air which as much yak as they want. More precisely, their customers do.

But there’s air, and then there’s air. Telecom Inc might “own” the cell phone spectrum, but what about the ambient air that Ms. Bigmouth violates when she screams into her cell phone? What about the spillover from Telecom’s air into ours? In the reasoning of the FCC our air doesn’t count. Ms. Bigmouth can emit all the noise into it she wants. But we can’t send an electronic signal into that same air and fill it with quiet. Noise is important; silence isn’t. The boisterous yammering of one person takes priority over the desire of fifty or a hundred others for a little peace.

This premise goes to the core of the fatuous belief in technology and progress. There was a time when space seemed vast and the challenge was to conquer it and fill it. Now, as space fills up, that dynamic is starting to hit the wall. Sooner or later cell phone jammers are going to force the issue, in this small realm at least. The government is going to have to articulate exactly why noise is more important than quiet, and why one person should be able to ruin the common air for everyone else."

As Heidegger said, technology is often just our way of arranging the world so we don't have to experience it... the mobile phone is merely communications barrier between people sharing the same real world space, a room, a train, a bus.

Rowe's thoughts on an honest tricycle driver are also worth a read.

"One day not long ago Darwin Calvario did have a rider of means. He didn’t know it at the time. But later, on the passenger seat, he found a bag with checks and cash worth 296,000 Philippine pesos, which is about half a year’s middle class income in that country. He normally makes about P150 a day, or about three dollars U.S.

For Mr. Calvario there was a more pressing metric. One of his four sons was born without an anal opening (technically an “imperforate anus”). When he was born 3 years ago the family had to scrounge P100,000 for an operation so that he could wear a colostomy bag. Some of the money came from loan sharks. The bags alone cost P70 a day and the now the child is in desperate need of a second operation before it is too late to have a normal life.

The P296,000 in his passenger seat must have seemed a gift from heaven. Calvario might well have thought about the kleptocracy in his own country, and the moral equivalent in the corporate U.S., and thought, “Why not me?” His fellow drivers urged him to keep the money. As reported in the Philippines Inquirer, he went home that day and brooded. That night he hardly slept. The next day, partly at his wife’s urging, he tracked down the passenger and returned the money."
Becky Hogge at Open Democracy says the ongoing IP war "is a contest over freedom as well as technology.

"Fights for freedom are not always played out centre-stage. Since 2003, a piece of European Union legislation with the misleadingly arcane title of the “EU Directive on Computer Implemented Innovation” has been slipping unobtrusively through the bureaucratic thickets of Brussels. It has attracted little attention beyond intellectual property (IP) specialists and activists. It is time the interest widened, for the scope of the directive goes to the heart of how knowledge will be produced, consumed, and disseminated in the 21st-century global economy.

The proposed legislation has the potential to lock away information – code – by extending the remit of patent law to cover any piece of code that makes a “significant technical contribution” to the field. The law would bring Europe closer to the United States’s highly promiscuous attitude towards software patents, although how close remains a subject of fierce debate."

French court releases serial film downloader

The French Court of Appeal of Montpellier apparently said yesterday that downloading copyrighted films from the Internet for private use was defensible in France. Yet another French court handed out a big fine for the same activity in January.

INDICARE adds that "Once a work has been disclosed, the author may not prohibit: 2°. copies or reproductions reserved strictly for the private use of the copier and not intended for collective use (...)

This does not mean that the Court has judged that movie downloading is now legal in France on a general basis. Though I have not (yet) seen the judgment, it (probably) gives the indication that private use may be a defense against a claim of copyright infringement for downloading. While this might be called a recognition of the private copying clause in the digital environment, it is not clear if this will hold up. There are currently about 50 comparable criminal cases pending, and in the past users have been sentenced for these acts. It has to be seen if this decision will be followed in the future.

Towards DRMs the private copying clause does not do much good. An earlier French court decision made it clear that private copying should be regarded as a defense and not a right Consequently it cannot be called upon against the rightsholder. If a user cannot make a copy the private use exception will not provide a legal tool to achieve this. The optimists of Audionautes might say that downloading now provides a legal alternative."

Principles for the Internet in the age of terrorism

Cory on Dan Gillmor's working group on terrorism and the Net at the Madrid summit.

"In Madrid, they're honoring the anniversary of the March 11 train-bombing with a summit on Democracy, Security and Terrorism. Dan Gillmor is there, in a working group on terrorism and the Internet, and they've drafted a fantastic set prinxiples for the Internet in the age of terrorism, click the link for the whole thing and a message-board where you can discuss it.

I. The Internet is a foundation of democratic society in the 21st century, because the core values of the Internet and democracy are so closely aligned.

1. The Internet is fundamentally about openness, participation, and freedom of expression for all -- increasing the diversity and reach of information and ideas.

2. The Internet allows people to communicate and collaborate across borders and belief systems.

3. The Internet unites families and cultures in diaspora; it connects people, helping them to form civil societies.

4. The Internet can foster economic development by connecting people to information and markets.

5. The Internet introduces new ideas and views to those who may be isolated and prone to political violence.

6. The Internet is neither above nor below the law. The same legal principles that apply in the physical world also apply to human activities conducted over the Internet.


Phone ban to stop 'text bullies'

"A secondary school plans to ban its pupils from bringing in mobile phones as a way of stopping bullying via text." According to the BBC.

High Court orders ISPs to identify customers

Th High Court in London has ordered six UK ISPs to identify 31 people who have allegedly uploaded large numbers of copyrighted songs to the Internet. They have 14 days to do so, according to the Register.

Seanchaí Dave Allen dies

One of the great seanchaís of Irish comedy, Dave Allen, has died. Much disapproved of by Irish mothers (due to his occasional foul language) and the catholic church (due to his satirical take on that auspicious body), I still remember one of my early encounters with his humour, when he had me in stitches discussing TV adverts for a toilet cleaner, that "kills 99% of all known germs.... dead." Kills them dead says Allen, "...what about the other 1%" and he goes on to relate in hilarious fashion, with bulging eyes and funny faces, the notion of a superbug feeding and thriving on the chemicals from the cleaner.

What made his style so effective was that it was so true to life. He'll be sadly missed.


Deborah Lipstadt was cold when she went along as part of a US presidential delegation to the 60 year memorial service at Auschwitz last month. When she was there she reflected on the writings of the survivors, like Primo Levi.

"Levi attributed his survival during those difficult last days to the friendship and support of a small group of men who were in the hospital with him. Their only goal, he told Philip Roth years later, was to save "the lives of our sick comrades." On the night of the 26th of January one of them died. Levi and his friends were too cold and exhausted to bury him. There was nothing to do but go back to sleep and wait for the next day. "The Russians arrived while Charles and I were carrying Sómogyi a little distance outside. He was very light. We overturned the stretcher on the gray snow. Charles took off his beret. I regretted not having a beret."

Sixty years later, as darkness fell over Auschwitz, I turned to one of the members of our delegation and said: "It's really cold. I regret not having worn another layer of clothing." Suddenly Levi's words came cascading back on me. I was embarrassed. And then without explaining why, I stood up in silent tribute not just to Sómogyi, but to the countless nameless others who had died there or those, such as Elie Wiesel's father, who died soon after the death march. I also stood for people such as Levi, who survived but bore the terrible wounds of the place for the rest of their lives.

Despite the sharp wind, I took off my hat. After all, I had one."

Drive by hackers

UK firms haemorrhaging data to drive-by hackers says Robert Jaques at

Legitimate use, open source, keep BitTorrent out of court

The MPAA won't be targetting BitTottent according to Jay Lyman at NewsForge:

"In an interview, MPAA Senior Vice President of Worldwide Anti-piracy Operations John Malcolm said the MPAA has no qualms with BitTorrent as a technology.

"I am totally agnostic about the technology that is involved," Malcolm said. "I view innovations as exciting. While they present some piracy problems, there are tons of opportunities for creative people to put content in peoples' hands at a reasonable price."

Malcolm indicated he was not favorable to BitTorrent over any other technology and added the fact that it is open source has little to do with his organization's approach."

Who Owns What?

From David Morris at Common Dreams, George Bush’s “Ownership Society” Leaves Out the Things We Actually Own — Our Bodies, Our Privacy, Our Dignity, Our Bedrooms.

ID cards may slip through

Rchard Allan, Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield Hallam, seems to think that, with time running out because of the ongoing farce of the terrorism-ping-pong between the two houses of parliament, the government might do a "Bertie and the boys" job on ID cards and slip them through just before the election without a debate.

I hope he's wrong.

We are not afraid

This Guardian story says more than the usual media reports about the reality that constitutes the de-stabilized society that is parts of Northern Ireland, a reality that soundbite politicians chasing the next headline will never truly understand.

"Republicanism runs as deep as the river here. The first northern rebel to die in the 1916 Easter Rising was a Short Strand man, killed in faraway County Kerry. But it was to be the events of June 27 1970 that gave Short Strand a unique place in republican mythology and gave the fledgling Provisional IRA its first claim to be the protector of the minority Catholic community.

With the streets around the area thronged with a huge Protestant mob intent on burning the Catholics out, and the British Army and the old RUC apparently content to stand by, a handful of IRA men led by Billy McKee made a stand in the grounds of St Matthew's Church, which has gone down in republican history as the Provo Alamo.

McKee was badly wounded and another IRA volunteer killed in the gun battle, in which three loyalists also died. The battle finally put paid to the bitter Catholic taunt that IRA stood for "I Ran Away"...

In the days after the murder, the family was in shock that the IRA could kill one of their own, an innocent Catholic who voted Sinn Fein because he thought they could deliver peace. They did not immediately speak out. On the Short Strand that was a decision not to be taken lightly. But when they saw that the IRA and Sinn Fein were remaining silent, people began to vent their anger, saying the IRA were out of control, a gang of thugs, paedophiles, rapists and bullies. The once unthinkable graffiti "PIRA scum" appeared on walls. More than 700 came out for a street vigil. Normally when the IRA kill one of their own, few people come to the funeral, but around 1,000 lined the streets as the cortege snaked past. There were 64 death notices in the Irish News...

The family are setting up an office from which to run a Truth and Justice for Robert campaign. It seems an almost inhuman burden for one family to take on. But they say they will keep going. Gerry Adams said this week that the IRA will not be "embarrassed, demonised or repressed out of existence". Nor will the McCartneys."

It is the extraordinary ordinary people, like the McCartney sisters and their murdered brother's fiancee, Bridgeen Hagans, that will ultimately defeat the abuse of terrorism, not the sadly comical and potentially dangerous antics of politicians attempting to show who can stay awake the longest.

Two well worn quotes come to mind,

Edmund Burke said that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Ben Franklin said that anyone who would give up a little essential liberty for a little temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety.

Having got slightly distracted by this story I'd just add a little addendum: anyone with a serious interest in understanding the political situation in Northern Ireland could do a lot worse than start with Tim Pat Coogan's excellent book, The Troubles. A past long time editor of one of Ireland's leading newspapers, The Irish Press, an admittedly republican-leaning publication, Coogan nevertheless brings an analytical historian's perspective to the immediate 30-year backdrop of today's Northern Irish politics.

WIPO comic parody

If you like comics, you'll like this and the WIPO version it is ripping and mixing.

Wico's Tweedy attitude key to the copyright war

Lessig on balance at WIPO.

Lessig wrote an article for Wired last month on Wilco's attitude to the copyright wars and thinks he may now see the light at the end of the tunnel. He reckons that sensible people, like Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, ignoring moral outrage on all sides and producing and distributing good music with the aid of the new technologies, will ultimately make the current copyright wars redundant.

"I got a chance to ask Tweedy about all this before a concert in Oakland, California (that's the weird thing about law professors hanging around Wired - you get to go to the back of the bus). What struck me most was his clarity. He was a man called to a war that he couldn't believe had to be fought. Yet it isn't ideology that drives him. It's common sense.

"Music," he explained, "is different" from other intellectual property. Not Karl Marx different - this isn't latent communism. But neither is it just "a piece of plastic or a loaf of bread." The artist controls just part of the music-making process; the audience adds the rest. Fans' imagination makes it real. Their participation makes it live. "We are just troubadours," Tweedy told me. "The audience is our collaborator. We should be encouraging their collaboration, not treating them like thieves."

He uttered this with the passion of a teacher explaining the most fundamental truths. Words echo in this poet's mind many times before they are spoken. These words had echoed many times before. But when I asked him to explain the extremism in this war, passion faded and disbelief took its place. Commenting on a court decision to ban all music sampling without a license, he said one word: racism. And he seemed genuinely confounded by those who use the courts to punish their fans. "If Metallica still needs money," he almost whispered, "then there's something really, really wrong." He would protest this extremism, he explained, by living a different life. By inviting, by creating, by inspiring music, and by ignoring wars about plastic."

It's worth repeating the last couple of sentences there:

"He would protest this extremism, he explained, by living a different life. By inviting, by creating, by inspiring music, and by ignoring wars about plastic."

UK Common Information Environment

How come I've never heard of these people before, who sound like a very important group in the context of open access to information, given that the BBC and JISC are involved?

Ireland sneak data retention into law

The Irish parliament have sneaked 3-year data retention requirements for telcos into their new criminal justice act, according to Privacy International.

Having failed to drive through data retention proposals at EU level for telecommunications companies during their recent presidency, "Bertie and the boys," as the Irish government are affectionately known in my native land, have nevertheless decided to set an example for their neighbours by doing so at home. Given the current "who can stay awake the longest to change the constitution and look tough-on-terrorists" games in the UK, the Blair government could learn a lot from the slick machiavellian political shenanigans of their counterparts on the other side of the Irish sea.

Watch out for the rush to "harmonise" with Ireland on data retention.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Be Careful What You Believe In

At Kuro5hin,

"Beliefs are powerful, because they are not only the basis for our decisions, but also filters through which we view the world. We are constantly bombarded with huge volumes of information from our senses. Our eyes take in a full 120 degree sweep, much of this at a very high resolution, our ears are constantly responding to sounds, our sense of smell always probing the air around us for food or threats. The vast majority of this torrent of information is effectively ignored. Based on the information we get from the senses, we form a model of the world and it is this model, which forms the basis for our decisions. Absolute truth is out there, but in our heads everything is to a greater or lesser extent an interpretation. For any set of sensory data more than one interpretation is possible, and it is our beliefs, implicit and explicit, which we use to decide between the interpretations available...

Simply being aware of the effects that our beliefs have on our perception, frees us to some extent from their power and enables us to view the world from other perspectives. Once we have decided what to believe, we can then fix that belief by examining the world in the light of the new belief and looking at the form which it takes on. If we so decide then we can further fix the belief by acting at all times as if it were true. The mind does not deal well with contradictions between thought and action, and after sufficient time the actions will cement the belief. In this way, we can decide rationally on what to believe and thus shape for ourselves the world in which we live."

Meet John Doe

The Village Voice: "The RIAA runs its lawsuits as a volume business, and sometimes downloaders just gotta settle" This article is written by one of the "John Does," Nick Mamatas, who was targetted an settled with the RIAA.

"For me, the experience of settling with the RIAA was almost painless—except for the thousands I agreed to pay. Dragging my "shared" folder to the trash icon, promising not to download anymore, and acknowledging that illegal downloading is wrongful were easy enough. I happened to know an intellectual-property lawyer who agreed to handle the negotiations pro bono. He was the one who called the RIAA settlement center number and spoke not to a lawyer, but to a staffer empowered and trained to negotiate. "It feels like they're doing a volume business," my lawyer told me...

Annalee Newitz, policy analyst for the civil liberties group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says the practice of suing not just a single anonymous person but dozens at a time is called "spamigation." "That's one of the slimier things that entertainment companies are doing," she says, because mass lawsuits allow "companies to sue hundreds of people for the same cost as suing only one. So instead of respecting the defendants' due process rights and suing them individually, the companies are able to cut down on court fees and sue them as a group. This makes it much easier for companies to sue people willy-nilly, even if they aren't sure that the person being sued is in fact infringing, because it doesn't cost them any extra money to add another name to their suit...

And downloading? Well, I'm done with it now, except for legal freebies, but even my close friends haven't been scared off. One scoffed at my settlement, and said that if she were sued, she'd fight the RIAA in court. For her, downloading is "civil disobedience" in protest against the legal digital music systems that just don't have all the music she wants. Of course it's easy to strike a rebel pose like that . . . until you become just another John Doe."

When you consider the minimum damages award per song downloaded is $750, you can see what he means. The one person who did challenge the RIAA in court lost and was ordered to pay $22,500, ($750 for each of 30 songs). Could have been worse. She was originally accused of having downloaded thuosands of songs. So the court award could be considered, relatively speaking, to be reasonable. Proportionality of the damages? Now that's a different matter entirely.

Double posting

For some reason some of my posts here yesterday have been repeated up to four times. I hope I've rectified that this morning.

I've been playing with Radio Userland, which I signed up for last week and attempting to do some posting through Radio, whilst mirroring those posts here on blogger. I expect that has something to do with the multiple postings of the same item. All the entries affected were those I put up on Radio.

If anyone can explain why Radio Userland would repeatedly post the same item to a mirror site I'd really appreciate an explanation.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A colleague was just asking me about the possibility of using a
creative commons licence for a particular project.  John Buckman,
founder of, has a written a basic introductory article.

The EU Parliament are spoiling for a fight on software patents.

Who own's an athlete's statistics?  Asks Tresa Baldas
at : "The professional sports industry has become entangled in
an emerging web of intellectual property litigation over issues ranging
from who owns player statistics in fantasy leagues to who possesses the
view of a baseball park."

In what's being hailed as a victory in the world's first case against biopiracy,
the European Patent Office have " upheld a decision to revoke in its
entirety a patent on a fungicidal product derived from seeds of the
Neem, a tree indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. The historic action
resulted from a legal challenge mounted ten years ago by three
Opponents: the renowned Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva, Magda
Aelvoet, then MEP and President of the Greens in the European
Parliament, and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture
Movements (IFOAM). Their joint Legal Opposition claimed that the
fungicidal properties of the Neem tree had been public knowledge in
India for many centuries and that this patent exemplified how
international law was being misused to transfer biological wealth from
the South into the hands of a few corporations, scientists, and
countries of the North. Today the EPO's Technical Board of Appeals
dismissed an Appeal by the would-be proprietors -- the United States of
America and the company Thermo Trilogy -- and maintained the decision
of its Opposition Division five years ago to revoke the Neem patent in
its entirety, thus bringing to a close this ten-year battle in the
world's first legal challenge to a biopiracy patent."


Newsforge reports: FSF offers jobs page for employers, employees

"While it has carried job listings on its site in some form since 2001,
the Free Software Foundation (FSF) launched a newly revived "Jobs in
Free Software" page last month to match employers who are committed to
the ideals of free software with like-minded job seekers."

WIPO politics

Kim Weatherall on the accusation of dirty tricks at WIPO on the development agenda.

"I'm no politics expert, and I'm also no expert on the politics of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in particular. But there's a lot of very apparently interesting political moves going on there at the moment.

For one thing, there are three key Agenda items that are going on at the moment, pulling in different directions:

1. The Development Agenda: based on the a proposal (pdf) from Argentina for the Establishment of a Development Agenda for WIPO', and adopted in October 2004. Prior to the adoption of this agenda, hundreds of nonprofits, scientists, academics and other individuals signed the 'Geneva Declaration on the Future of WIPO', which expresses a lot of the same general ideas. The general aim is to integrate a 'development dimension' into international IP policy-making;

2. The Substantive Patent Law Treaty: the aim of this agenda item is to further harmonise patent law by a treaty that establishes common standards on important elements of patent law - like novelty, inventive step, prior art - things like that.

3. The proposed Broadcasting Rights Treaty: the 'next' copyright item - which proposes to give full copyright rights to broadcasters.

In theory, the first of these should, one would think, be strongly informing the other two. If a 'development dimension' is to be incorporated in IP policy-making, then it should be incorporated into all IP policy-making - especially the agreement of any new treaties. That linkage is not, currently, apparent, given the separate meetings being held on the development agenda. In fact, one interesting observation is that, currently, if you go to the WIPO website, and look for "About Intellectual Property", there is no link to a Development Agenda or development issues. And, if you look at the list of topics in "Activities", you'll also look in vain for a Development Agenda. The only reference you'll find that looks like it might be relevant - 'Cooperation for Development' - refers to activities to 'enable developing countries all over the world to establish or modernize intellectual property systems'. Hmmm."

Panoptican of DRM

On the Identity trail has a thought provoking essay on the panoptic power of digital rights management technologies.

"In both DRM and the Panopticon, the objects of surveillance are denied privacy. As a condition of participation in the architectures (as if they had a choice), the objects are required to lay themselves and their activities bare before their supervisors. This requirement ensures that all information is available for the supervisors to see and use. This information is the root of the supervisor’s power and the more information there is, the greater their power...

In terms of its operational mechanisms, DRM is analogous to the Panopticon because DRM systems contain technological components that track and report on the works that they protect. However, this tracking and reporting creates information not only about works but, more importantly, about the people that access or use works. The fundamental premise of DRM is one of authentication – i.e. managing who has permission to do what in relation to a work. DRM requires that users disclose personal information in order access or use works. This means that DRM systems can gather detailed information about the types of works that particular users access as well as fine-grained information about how particular users use works. DRM therefore has the capability to simultaneously ‘backlight’ the activities of every user of DRM-protected works so that they are all perfectly observed at an individual level."

Stefan Brands'has some ideas on privacy enhancing drm.

Nanny state

From the Guardian, Children told to devise personal health plans.

"Children will be expected to draw up personal health plans to improve their quality of life, under a scheme outlined today by the health secretary, John Reid."

And there are going to be new "Community Matrons" to police it.

The nanny state going potty.

Slime mould

Spy blog is less than enamoured with the latest anti terror legislation.

"Hansard and the Parliament's website seem to have found it impossible to keep up to date with the slime mould that is the legislative progress of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill.

We suspect that almost nobody actually completely understands exactly what the House of Commons and the House of Lords have actually been voting for or against...

Passing this Bad Legislation, even in this amended form, is wrong, and will simply cause injustices which will be exploited by terrorist recruiters, without actually making us any safer.

The Nu Labour Government seems to be more concerned with pretending to be "tough" on terrorism, and trying to pretend that its opponents are somehow "weak" on the issue, ahead of the forthcoming General Election. Surely this is too transparent a political ploy to influence the Electorate?"

I wondered about the excessive focus on PR a couple of days ago.

Court of Justice and WTO

This is interesting, if not surprising. The European Court of Justice has confirmed that it will not be bound to apply World Trade Organisation rules.

"Now the Court of Justice has confirmed in Case C-377/02 Léon Van Parys that the WTO agreements are not in principle among the rules in the light of which the Court is to review the legality of measures adopted by the Community institutions. Consequently, an individual cannot in principle plead before a court of a member State that Community legislation is incompatible with certain WTO rules."

Why did we have to waste court time on this in the first place? Don't answer that!

California INDUCE

Ed Felten has some thoughts on California's proposed version of the INDUCE act, which fortunately didn't make it through Congress last year.

"The main change from the previous version of the bill is the requirement to include filtering technologies; the previous version had required instead that the person "take reasonable care in preventing" bad uses of the software. This part of the bill is odd in several ways.

First, if the system in question uses a client-server architecture (as in the original Napster system), the bill applies only to the client-side software, since only the client software meets the bill's definition of P2P. Since the bill requires that a filter be incorporated into the P2P software, a provider could not protect itself by doing server-side filtering, even if that filtering were perfectly effective. This bill doesn't just mandate filtering, it mandates client-side filtering."

Open Access

Interesting debate about open access to scientific publications in Chemical Engineering News:

"Open access has evolved into one of the most contentious debates within the scientific community in recent years. During the past 18 months, the dialogue on how best to disseminate published research has been steadily gaining momentum.

Advocates of open access argue that the public should be able to access all online scientific literature for free. They maintain that the public has a right to access the results of federally funded research supported by their tax dollars. Opponents insist that the current subscription-based system does allow the public access to the literature, albeit not for free. They argue that subscriptions are needed to support the costs associated with journal publication and online archiving."

RIPA breached?

Spy Blog claims Bradford City Council have fallend foul of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act:

"Bradford Council's public CCTV surveillance cameras schemes appear to have be used increasingly for directed surveillance by the Police and by Customs & Excise, according to this Freedom of Information Act request based report in the local newspaper, the Bradford Telegraph & Argus"

Spoiled children

Charles Petit at Scrivener's error laments the

"maturity level in the file-sharing debate" which "would need to improve to be properly compared to a third-grade recess. Let's just say that I'm disgusted by the whole matter."

No one escapes his wrath:

"On the one hand, we have the artists claiming that not all file-sharing is bad. Well, it's not. I'm a strong proponent of author (in the constitutional sense; I include musicians, artists, etc.) control over copyrighted works. If the copyright holder agrees to redistribution of materials, such as through file-sharing, that bloody well should be good enough. The problem here is that too many of these "authors" have, for years, allowed the various publishers (again, in the constitutional sense) to grab too many rights and assert too much control. So, instead, these authors are frequently asserting rights that—whether "morally" or not—simply aren't theirs to assert...

On the second hand, we have the doom-and-gloomish ISPs (et al.) claiming that any restrictions at all will result in the collapse of Western civilization, and not incidentally in their own demise. Wake up, children: Somebody, somewhere, is paying for the communications networks used for file sharing. They're not "free."...

On the third hand, we have the "entertainment industry"—an industry that invests less in its "raw material" than does virtually any other segment of the modern economy. It, of course, is whining about how threatened it is by the various new technologies. Just like it did when it became possible to broadcast films on television; just like it did when xerography became so cheap that it's almost unconscious. That some of this third hand has substantial investment in the second hand just makes the intellectual dishonesty that much more repulsive...

On the fourth hand, we have a significant proportion of the public that wants to get its entertainment for free...

And then, on the fifth hand, we have an even more significant proportion of the public that just doesn't get it."

He has a point.

Diebold problems in Maryland

Problems in Maryland Just Now Surfacing? E-voting experts are not sure if this is a real story or not:

"We’ll need to see some corroboration of this report and what evidence is consistent across the report and what the Maryland elections officials have to say for themselves. I truly hope that this hasn’t been shrouded in secrecy for more than four months… that would be an unqualified disaster of the electoral system and responsibility would lie on the shoulders those we entrust to ensure our votes count."

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

March of the Spiders

I missed this report when it was published by Simon Moores early in the new year. Coverage at ITproPortal.

"More fairness needed in copyright and Internet property legislation...

According to Moores, there is an inequality under current UK laws as an Internet Service Provider (ISP) can, following an allegation of copyright violation by a third party, terminate the Internet connection of a customer without notice."

Schneier on ID cards again

Bruce Schneier points out how damaging ID cards are again:

"If you had a list of people that were so dangerous you would never let them on an aircraft and £10bn, would you build a series of checkpoints at airports just in case they happened to walk through them, or hire FBI agents to investigate those people?"

Me? I'd hire the agents. But there are no short term Daily Mail (or equivalent) headlines in that.

Does EU sw patent process expose constitution

Jonas Maebe, Belgian computer scientist and board member of FFII, explains in an open letter how the experience with the software patent directive has proven the EU and its proposed Constitution to be a dangerous political farce.


I am sorry to be so pessimistic and to throw this out all over you, even though many of you personally have no fault in all this. I'm also certain you have the best intentions with the proposed Constitution. However, I'm becoming tired:

1. We got almost unanimous support in the European Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee to restart the directive.
2. This request was confirmed by unanimity in the Conference of Presidents and an overwhelming majority in plenary
3. The Commission declined and until today has not been able to produce any explanation as to why (except for "we want the procedure to continue")
4. We managed to secure a generous blocking minority in the Council (Spain, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Poland, Hungary, Latvia, The Netherlands)
5. This position was confirmed by the German, Dutch, Spanish and Danish national parliaments
6. The Council presidency "takes some shortcuts" and shoves it through as a "non-discussion" item, "so as not to create a precedent which might have a consequence of creating future delays in other processes"

Because democratic ways fail over and over again, the situation has now become so bad that some people even set up a web page where you can pledge money to bribe the Council, because that's the only way they see that's left to get anything done at all. It may seem like a joke, but after everything I've experienced the past one-and-a-half year (since the directive was passed from Parliament to Council), it would not surprise me in the least if they're half-serious.

The Constitution merely enshrines all of the above. Of course it does not codify the fact that the people who lead the European Patent Office should be the same people as those who write the Council version of the directive as it happened last year, but it also does not prevent this. It does not say that the Commission should introduce last minute amendments at Council sessions so as to confuse delegations, but it also does not call a halt to this practice. It does not say political agreements are cast in stone, but neither does it clearly say that they have less legal value than the ticket you get in a supermarket and that they should be treated as such when there is reason to do so.

How on Earth am I expected to still believe in this farce? I really do want to believe. Just give me chance to do so..."

I have to say that being a supporter (with some important reservations) in principle of the idea of an EU constitution (though not necessarily with the small print of the one that has actually been agreed), my observations of the EU processes in practice over the past couple of years lead to me sharing Jonas Maebe's concerns about its operation in practice. The degree to which the decision making processes can be highjacked by a small number of politicians focused almost entirely on their need to be seen to be doing something is unconscionable.

Benefits to MIT of Open Course Ware project

Jason Schwartz writing in the Daily Pennsylvian points out the benefits, four years on, of MIT's decision to provide open access to course materials.

"For the last four years, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been pioneering a system known as OpenCourseWare, which allows any Internet user to access materials -- including lecture notes, problem sets and quizzes -- from various university courses...

Copyright issues are a major obstacle for OCW programs, as permission must be obtained for the use of copyrighted materials embedded in professors' lecture notes...

"The primary reason that MIT is doing [OCW] is that its leaders believe in the benefits of openly sharing educational materials and knowledge," MIT OCW Communications Manager Jon Paul Potts said...

Potts added that in addition to being a "a great boost to MIT's image," OCW has brought other perks to the institution.

For example, it has reduced the need for a class-shopping period because students can preview a course on OCW before registering for it.

It has also been a "wonderful recruiting tool" for undergraduate and graduate students as well as young faculty eager to "get their work out there," Potts said...

Potts noted that in addition to publishing courses online, one of MIT's main goals is to spread OCW to other universities. He added that MIT would offer advice and share technology with any school wishing to embark on an OCW program."

Peter Suber on Israeli newspaper ads

Peter Suber has a fascinating perspective of an Israeli copyright dispute between newspaper and a website copying their ads.

" An Israeli court has ruled that a web site may copy and redistribute a newspaper's classified ads without seeking permission first. Excerpt: 'In this particular case, there is no information theft because the information does not belong to Maariv [the newspaper], but rather to the advertisers, who are simply using the daily newspaper as a platform. The judge stated that the advertisers have an interest in their notices being published in other places apart from Maariv, and said the job-seeking public is similarly interested in "an accessible site that enables them to easily survey job offers. As for Maariv's argument that people are liable to refrain from purchasing the newspaper and will instead surf Ozer's site, [Judge] Zaft responded: "The Internet poses new challenges to businesses that relay information to the general public via old platforms. The public has an interest in promoting initiative....The paper must find a way to exist alongside it."' (Thanks to BNA Internet Law News.)

(PS: This is not about scholarly publishing, but it's a welcome precedent with fascinating implications for scholarly publishing. Scholarly authors have the same interests as advertisers in seeing their work disseminated as widely as possible, not just to paying subscribers. Scholarly readers have the same interests as job seekers in having ready access to the scholarship or job ads that others are trying to disseminate. All of us have an interest in taking advantage of new technology and asking older business models to find a way to exist alongside it.)"

Open access archiving: an idea whose time has come?

Open access archiving: an idea whose time has come? from SciDev.Net.

"As controversy continues around demands for open access to refereed published research, significant progress is being made by those campaigning for the more modest goal of applying the same open access principles to archiving. Researchers in developing countries are among those with much to gain."

Wide open spectrum

There's a lovely accessible article in the Columbia Journalism Review by Jesse Sunenblick about the complex subject of the future of broadcasting. Sunenblick talked to Eben Moglen when researching the article:

" In his office, I told Moglen I was having trouble understanding how an “open” spectrum would differ from a “closed” spectrum, and could he please offer an analogy from the real world that would bring the otherworldliness of the radio spectrum into context?

He leaned back in his chair and spread his arms out wide, as though everything around us were part of the analogy he was about to give. Which was true. “Take the island of Manhattan,” Moglen said. “The level of anonymity in Manhattan is subject to social regulation, like the radio spectrum is subject to political regulation. And it’s variable: sometimes you go places where you have to identify yourself, sometimes not. And as the city imposes restrictions on movement, zoning, and behavior, the federal government places restrictions upon the radio spectrum.

“However,” he went on, “the difference is in the number of restrictions. The essence of life in Manhattan is openness. It’s all free, it’s all here, you can get to it. You can walk from the West Side to the East Side, from Harlem to Chinatown. Or take a cab. But what would Manhattan look like if its social policies were on par with the current government policies concerning use of the radio spectrum? It would be unendurable. You’d have David Rockefeller owning Rockefeller Center. Rupert Murdoch would have a dominant say in everything that happens between the Battery and 23rd Street. Worse, you’d be sitting in Starbucks, having a conversation, and somebody would say, ‘You, stop talking! You, talk about the weather!’ You’re allowed to have person-to-person conversations, but for the privilege of doing so in my neighborhood you have to pay six dollars a minute. And, because there’s nothing resembling a Central Park on the radio spectrum, if you want to gather people and talk about the war in Iraq, tough luck! We need a Central Park for radio!”

If the government tried to license newspapers, Moglen says, the courts would block it on the ground that it violated the First Amendment. “The technological reason that we have given in the past for why a system of licensing — one that would be completely unconstitutional with respect to print — is constitutional in the spectrum, no longer exists! "

And David Hughes:

"last year, Hughes helped another Nepalese entrepreneur add computers and a wireless link to his cybercafé in the Namche Bazaar, the trading center of the Everest region. He used three antenna relays (one hanging off the side of a monastery at 14,000 feet) to extend the network to a school in the nearby town of Thame, where ten Sherpa children are now taking English and computer classes over the Internet from a Nepalese-born, English-speaking Sherpa computer programmer who lives in Pittsburgh.

The computers the Nepalese children use rely on a free software program called Free World Dial Up, which allows them to speak to their teacher over computers, for a flat rate, the way most people do over telephones. To Hughes, when Nepalese children are talking to their teacher in Pittsburgh and handing in their lessons by computer, giving them, as he says, “half a fighting chance to succeed in this world,” that represents more than a demonstration of the possibilities of technology. It is a paradigm shift, a revolution. "

WIPO shutting out public interest organisations

From Cory at EFF:

"March 07, 2005
WIPO Shutting Out Public Interest Organizations

Experts on Development Won't Be Heard at Crucial Meetings

Geneva - Last week, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) announced that it will shut out most public interest organizations at two important meetings devoted to intellectual property and development. As a result, WIPO delegates from 182 nations will discuss these issues without hearing from many of the world's best-qualified experts.

Scheduled for next month, two WIPO "Development Agenda" meetings will focus on the impact of copyright, patent, and other intellectual property rights regimes on the developing world. Without the public interest organizations, the discussions will be heavily weighted toward major motion picture studios, broadcasters, pharmaceutical giants, and other powerful interests that want to expand copyright and patent law.

"This is an embarrassment for WIPO," explained EFF European Affairs Coordinator Cory Doctorow. "Settling the debate by locking one side out of the building isn't the way the UN is supposed to work. We love the Development Agenda -- it's supposed to be a new direction for WIPO. A one-sided discussion isn't a new direction, though. It's just more of the same."

These meetings are a response to the proposal put forward by Brazil and Argentina in the wake of the Geneva Declaration on the future of WIPO, which was signed by hundreds of individuals and public interest non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Most public interest groups have only recently begun participating in WIPO and are not yet permanently accredited by the organization, since the accreditation process takes a year and they have always been able to participate as "ad hoc" observers in the past. On March 2, however, the International Bureau Secretariat advised EFF that only those NGOs that are currently accredited as "permanent" observers at WIPO will be allowed to attend these meetings. As a result, the bulk of civil society will be barred from attending.

"The Secretariat's exclusion of ad hoc observer NGOs raises fundamental questions about WIPO's commitment to a full and thorough discussion of the important issues in the Development Agenda proposal," said EFF International Affairs Director Gwen Hinze.

EFF is accredited as a WIPO permanent observer and will be attending the meetings. The group will be reporting on the proceedings and will attempt to represent the viewpoints of some of the other public interest groups that are being excluded from the process."

WIPO's acceptance of the development agenda put forward by Brazil and others last year was seen as major progress by many. It's not surprising that the reality is that existing powerful interests attempt to weigh any decision forum in their own favour. Brazil, Argentina, India nor any of the public interest organisations working on balancing WIPO's agneda ever believed that this was going to be easy. They were surprised but delighted that the development agenda was adopted in the first place but that was merely one small, though important, victory in a long battle in currently overwhelmingly hostile political territory.

Open access to academic publications

I'm reminded by the IEEE's The Institute of the House of Commons Science and Technology - Tenth Report from March last year, a 114 page analysis of academic publishing.

"10 Conclusion

211. Provision of STM journals in the UK is unsatisfactory. This is due to a combination of publishers' pricing policy and the inadequacy of library budgets to meet the demands placed upon them by a system supporting an ever increasing volume of research. Despite evidence that they are adding value to the scientific process, publishers are not as transparent as they could be about their publication costs. The practice of some of the larger commercial publishers of "bundling" content together to be sold as one product is having a negative impact on smaller publishers and on the ability of libraries to purchase the journals required by their communities. On the purchasing side, HEFCE has not proved itself to be ready to respond to the problem of insufficient library budgets. We have concluded that change on all sides is necessary as a matter of urgency. The digitisation of the market place, with all its attendant benefits and possibilities, presents the ideal opportunity for the UK to make that change.

212. We have recommended that the UK Government fund the establishment of an inter-linked network of institutional repositories on which all research articles originating in the UK should be deposited and can be read for free. SHERPA has already carried out some valuable work in this area and needs to be funded to enable it to play a central role in the future. In order to ensure that the repositories are well-populated, we have recommended that Research Councils mandate their funded researchers to deposit copies of all their articles in this way. Universities and other research institutions will need to build up their capacity to manage the copyright that might in future be retained by authors as a result of this system. We conclude that these are the essential first steps in the direction of a more fundamental change to the way in which researchers publish their findings.

213. Rigorous quality assurance of the research that is disseminated is key to the integrity of science publishing, research and academia. It is vital that steps be taken to protect and enshrine the process of rigorous and independent peer review whatever the mode of dissemination or the publishing model used."

"Conclusions and recommendations

1. It is discouraging that the Government does not yet appear to have given much consideration to balancing the needs of the research community, the taxpayer and the commercial sectors for which it has responsibility. (Paragraph 22)...

5. The British Library's Document Supply Service is an efficient and cost-effective method of providing access to articles in scientific journals. The decline in demand for Document Supply notwithstanding, we are persuaded that the service provides a valuable alternative route for users who would not otherwise have access to the journals that they needed. We recommend that the Government takes steps to protect the service. (Paragraph 31)...

7. We congratulate the Medical Research Council on its support of the principle that primary research data should be made available to the scientific community for subsequent research...

8. All researchers, regardless of the nature of their institution, should be granted access to the scientific journals they need to carry out their work effectively. (Paragraph 35)...

10. Teaching is a crucial university function. Universities should be permitted, within reason, to derive maximum value from the digital journals to which they subscribe by using them for legitimate teaching purposes...

11. It is not for either publishers or academics to decide who should, and who should not, be allowed to read scientific journal articles. We are encouraged by the growing interest in research findings shown by the public. It is in society's interest that public understanding of science should increase. Increased public access to research findings should be encouraged by publishers, academics and Government alike. (Paragraph 40)

12. We are not convinced that journal articles are consistently available to members of the public through public libraries. (Paragraph 42)

13. Digitisation should facilitate, not restrict access. We recommend that the next national site licence negotiated by the Joint Information Systems Committee explicitly provides for all library users without an Athens password to access the digital journals stocked by their library. (Paragraph 44)"

...and so it goes on with lots of hard hitting and sensible recommendations.

One year on, where are we? The government "welcomed" the report and rejected it out of hand. No action. No further forward.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Information Commissioner concerns

From Spy Blog: Information Commissioner memorandum expresses concerns over the Children Act 2004 section 12 Information databases. Includes some useful links on Guardian story I mentioned earlier.

No sw patents on sw patent directive passage

NoSoftwarePatents take on the EU council of ministers passing the software patents directive: Council sends a mockery of a CP to the EP

"The EU Council today adopted its Common Position on the software patent directive against the express will of various member countries. The text, which in the opinion of its critics is only a minority position today, had been previously agreed upon on 18 May 2004. Its formal adoption had failed repeatedly due to strong resistance by country governments and national parliaments. The minister from Luxembourg who chaired the meeting said: "We are adopting this Common Position today for institutional reasons as not to create a precedent" with implications to other processes in the Council.

Danish minister of economic affairs Bendt Bendtsen explained that Denmark would have preferred for the position to be renegotiated but that he was "not going to stand in the way of the formal adoption" and instead decided to attach a written declaration to the Common Position. The EU Affairs Committee of the Danish parliament had instructed him on Friday to demand a renegotiation of the controversial position. Various other countries had previously made uniteral declarations, including Hungary, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, and Cyprus.

The European Parliament will now have three months to reject or amend the proposal. For rejection or every single amendment, the EP needs a majority of the component members of parliaments, i.e. 367 votes irrespective of absences or abstentions.

Florian Mueller, who manages the pan-European campaign, was in the Council building today to follow the discussion. In his immediate reaction, he said that "we as the opponents of software patents don't have to talk too much now about the democratic illegitimacy of this proposal because it's so obvious. Even the chairman of today's meeting conceded it." He said the focus would now have to be on the second reading in the European Parliament, and outlined his campaign's strategy: "We have a number of psychological and political success factors on our side. Still the hurdle is very high in a second reading, so as a matter of precaution, we have to take multiple bites at the apple and shoot for rejection and impactful amendments in parallel." The EP will have up to four opportunities to reject the proposal, two in a second reading (one before and one after the votes on proposed amendments), a third one in conciliation and a fourth one in a third reading."

Groklaw on same: "Here's my analysis: Money talks."

Software patents adopted by the EU

From FFII,

"7 March 2005 -- The Council Presidency today declared the software agreement of 18 May 2004 to have been adopted, in violation of the procedural rules and in spite of the evident lack of a qualified majority of member states and the requests of several states to reopen negotiations.

Cyprus submitted a written declaration at the start of the Council session
Poland, Denmark, Portugal and others (not specified) asked for a B item (discussion point)
The Luxembourg presidency claimed this was not possible due to procedural reasons, and that this would have undermined the whole process -> it would stay on the list of A-items
Luxembourg then gave a long statement regarding how the EP still gets a chance in second reading, the importance of avoiding legal uncertainty etc.
Denmark said it was disappointed about this, but accepted and submitted a written declaration
Later on, the list of A items was accepted by the Council
Luxembourg negated the Council's own Rules of Procedure, which state that a B-item (which is at the same time a request to remove an A item) can only be rejected by the a majority of the Council, and not just by the Presidency. (art 3.8)
The objecting countries seem to have forgotten to request removal of the A-item from the agenda. Rules 3.1 + 3.7 would have given any single country the right to have the A-item removed, because the Luxemburg presidency had failed to insert it more than 14 days earlier. This is how Poland has removed A-items from the Agricultural & Fishery Council twice in the past.
This is a very sad day for democracy, and casts a very dark shadow over the European Constitution, which will give the Council even more power.
Council defense

Reportedly, the Danish minister (who was forced by a parliamentary committee to request a B-item, but did not like that at all) and the Luxembourg Council Presidency use the following paragraph as defense for their behaviour:

3.6. The provisional agenda shall be divided into Part A and Part B.
Items for which approval by the Council is possible without discussion
shall be included in Part A, but this does not exclude the possibility
of any member of the Council or of the Commission expressing an opinion
at the time of the approval of these items and having statements
included in the minutes.

This paragraph does not mention anything about the possibility to change an A item into a B item. Looking at rule 3.8, that one says:

3.8 "However, an A item shall be withdrawn from the agenda, unless the
Council decides otherwise, if a position on an A item might lead to
further discussion thereof or if a member of the Council or the
Commission so requests."

They might argue this still doesn't say anything about changing an A item into a B item, but Annex III of those same rules of procedure states on page 20, point 1(c):

(c) Article 3(8) (maintaining as a “B” item on the agenda an “A” item,
which would otherwise have had to be withdrawn from the agenda);

This clearly provides for the possibility of turning an A item into a B item.
Audio stream from Council session (sent by on-site activists)
Since the debate is over, the live stream links have been removed
Audio recording

Jonas Maebe, FFII Board Member:

It is absolutely unfathomable what happened today. I cannot see how
the promoters of the European Constitution can still support it with
a straight face. This event shows that something is clearly rotten
in the city of Brussels at the Council building. Why on Earth do we
still have the rules that state that national parliaments should be
taken into account by the Council?

Things would be much easier if we scrapped all those rules and
simply wrote down "The Council presidency and Commission can
do together whatever they like". There's no need for those pesky
democratically elected parliamentarians to interfere with the smooth
decision making process of the Council, since its only goal appears
to be to please big business and to produce as many texts as the
sausage machine can bear.

This is absolutely disgusting.

Hartmut Pilch (english version soon):

Die nächste Frage ist jetzt, wie der Rechtsausschuss des reagiert, der
heute um 18.00 in Straßburg zu diesem Thema tagt.

Das EP muss nach EP-Regel 57 entscheiden, ob ein "Gemeinsamer
Standpunkt" vorliegt. Angesichts des heutigen eigenmächtigen
Verhaltens der Ratspräsidentschaft erscheint dies zweifelhaft.
Ohne "Geimeinsamen Standpunkt" kann das EP auch nicht zu einer
zweiten Lesung voranschreiten. Eventuell wird da der EuGH
entscheiden müssen. Auch die düpierten Regierungen von
Dänermark, Polen, Portugal etc haben Zugang zum EuGH. Für
uns übrige Europäer bleiben vielleicht nur Mittel wie eine
Bewegung gegen die EU, natürlich auch gegen die EU-Verfassung.
Auch wenn die Ziele der EU begrüßenswert sind, muss das Ausmaß
an Leid und Tyrannei, das wir um dieser Ziele willen in Kauf
zu nehmen bereit sind, irgendwo seine Grenzen haben. Wenn
wir die in diesem Fall nicht klar aufzeigen können, steht uns
noch viel Ungemach ins Haus, nicht nur von Seiten des Patentwesens.

Extra information
Council press briefing"

So that's it. After all the years of negotiations, lobbying, underhand politics etc., it gets railroaded through by the Luxembourg presidency, in breach of procedure because the attending objecting ministers have not got energy, political will (in spite, in Denmark's case of being instructed by the national parliament to do so) or the knowledge of procedures necessary to block it.

It's a sad day for constitutional democracy in the EU, even though in practice it remains to be seen how much real effect the directive will have, since the European Patent Office have been arguably granting software patents for years. The directive, as I understand it, will now go to the EU parliament for a second reading but the parliament has limited abilities to change or reject it - even if the parliament did decide to reject it I think it could still be passed by the Council of Ministers.

Council of ministers approve sw patents?

The BBC are reporting that the council of ministers have approved the software patents directive. The report is somewhat confused, however, so we'll need to wait for further details.


This is funny.

""Excellent day isn't it?" the Boss blurts, entering Mission Control on a natural high.

"Your Job number is..... >clickety< 273108B for Bravo," I say.


"Your job number for getting my opinion of the day, it's 273108B. I'll add the 'what?' question as a sub job of this job. I'll get someone to get back to you with an opinion of the day within 15 minutes."

"Is this some sort of joke?"

"Joke.... Joke..." the PFY says thoughtfully. "I think we have something about Joke in our knowledge base." >clickety< "Yes, here it is Jon 183977C. Ends with 'Don't call me wooden eye'. Was that what you were asking about?"...

sn't it funny how quickly a policy can be reversed once upper management have time to think about it?"

ID scheme to bite dust in pre-election terror rush?

ID scheme to bite dust in pre-election terror rush? - John Lettice in the Register. Acerbic.

Larry Lessig: the comedy of the commons. At IT Conversations.

Copyright and social justice: " Copyright directly controls access to another basic human right: the right to information."

Economic and Political Freedom: Does One Lead to the Other?

Danes save Europe from software patents?

Danes save Europe from software patents? Cory Doctorow suggests the Danes may be stepping into the fray this time (today)to prevent the EU Council of Ministers from slipping through the software patents directive.

Dictionary of National Biography: $15,000, buggy -- better than Wikipedia?

Dictionary of National Biography: $15,000, buggy -- better than Wikipedia? Cory says:

"The latest salvo in the Wikipedia-versus-the-world wars: the new edition of the Oxford University Press Dictionary of National Biography -- ringing in at nearly $15,000 -- is riddled with factual errors. If these errors had appeared in Wikipedia entries, its likely that they would have been fixed in short order"

Research Findings Should be Made Accessible to Public

Research Findings Should be Made Accessible to Public

"Remember Lorenzo? The little kid with the wasting genetic disease in the 1992 movie "Lorenzo's Oil"?

After the doctors had given up on him, Lorenzo's dad, played by Nick Nolte, went on a tear. He researched everything known about his son's disease and came up with a treatment.

Today, Lorenzo's dad would probably have to live near a major university with a giant subscription budget to access the latest research.

Here's one example. It costs about as much to buy a year's subscription to the Journal of Applied Polymer Science as a 2005 Toyota Corolla. The price of each approaches $13,000...

Scholarship hasn't always been so pricey. Scholars used to write up their discoveries and give them to scholarly societies. The societies published them for other scholars to see."

MGM v. Grokster: Conservatives Speak

MGM v. Grokster: Conservatives Speak

"March 04, 2005

The American Conservative Union and the National Taxpayers Union have this to say in their brief [PDF] about the dangers (to podcasting, among other things) of judges expanding the reach of copyright's statutory monopoly:

Petitioners seek, in effect, a declaration that peer-to-peer file-sharing technologies are within their statutory copyright monopoly, that they can exclude others from distributing these technologies, and that, therefore, the developers and distributors of these technologies must obtain Petitioners' permission before distributing any such services or systems. The Court should see this for what it is—an attempt to leverage a lawful, but statutorily limited, monopoly over the distribution of expressive "works of authorship" into an unwarranted and anti-competitive monopoly over the distribution of innovative technologies.
Podcasting, of course, is merely one of innumerable examples of innovative technology that builds upon, and interacts with, the peer-to-peer distribution networks of the kind that Respondents have enabled. Millions of Americans are engaged in the business of building, developing, and using these technologies, and every one of them—every podcaster, every potential podcaster, every potential consumer of podcasting services, and every owner of an iPod or other mobile digital audio device—has a real and concrete stake in this llitigation, an interest that the Court must take into account."

Private firms to police terror orders

Private firms to police terror orders.

"Private security staff are to be used to monitor the controversial new anti-terrorist control orders in an attempt to save money, according to preparations being made to implement the policy by the Home Office...

Harry Fletcher, of Napo, the probation officers union, said if the government was right and "these people were amongst the most dangerous in the country, the monitoring should be the responsibility of the state and not private security companies. The information that will be available to these people will be highly sensitive.

"To have private companies in the intelligence loop could compromise that process. The people who currently monitor electronic tags are predominantly low paid with minimal training. Do we really want national security in these hands?""

Child database will breach ECHR

The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has said that the government's proposed database on all children in the UK risks breaching the European Convention on Human Rights.

" in a highly detailed, 11-page submission to the education and skills select committee, Thomas has expressed technical and legal concerns which threaten the database's creation.

His chief fear is that the database breaches Article 8 of the convention, which states that somebody's personal information should be subject to strict rules governing their privacy and confidentiality.

In addition, Thomas said the government's decision to put the names of every child in England and Wales on the database was 'difficult to justify as a proportionate response'. As such, the size and scope of the government's plans for the database makes it likely they will breach the convention.

Thomas also warned that the sheer size of the database would make it costly to keep up to date and might not help authorities to spot children at risk because it 'increases the size of the haystack when hunting for a needle'."

Bad laws won't stop the bombers

Andrew Rawnsley has a neat piece in yesterday's Observer, explaining why the current government have been passing such draconian laws. It's not that they believe ID cards or the Anti Terrorism Crime and Security Act and the latest changes giving the Home Secretary the power to lock up UK citizens indefinitely without trial will actually be effective in the fight against terrorism. It is just that they are terrified that, if some major terrorist atrocity does happen before the election, the electorate will turn on them and vote them out blaming them for not doing enough to prevent the tragedy.

"Ministers speak frankly - well, at least in private they speak frankly - of their nightmares about a Madrid-style horror, and possibly something 10 times as cataclysmic, happening in Britain. It is the big and terrifying unpredictable about the time between now and election day. Public opinion might rally to the government. Or it might swing angrily against Ministers. No one knows. Not knowing petrifies them. This is driving a panic not to give anyone any reason to be able to point a finger of blame that the government didn't prevent an avoidable atrocity...

There is something to be said in favour of ministers being so terrified of terrorism. Better that they are alert than complacent about what is a real and present danger. The trouble is that fear is a very bad midwife of legislation...

There is only one thing worse than making complex, sensitive and unprecedented law in a rush of fear. That is doing it in a pre-election panic as well."

So as long as people believe the government have done all they possibly can to prevent the terrorist act, it doesn't matter too much whether their efforts actually are effective.

Here's where Bruce Schneier's constant lessons about security theatre and the agenda of the decision maker comes together so starkly. Yet in pretending that they are doing as much as they can, in order to be perceived to be doing as much as they can, they are actually making us less secure. Charles Clarke may well be a very nice fellah and impeccably well intentioned. I don't know him personally so I don't know. And he may take appropriately considered and balanced judgements when he faced with pressures to detain suspects without trial. But he is not going to be Home Secretary forever. There will come a time when a less well intentioned or a weaker character comes into that office and we should be concerned about the kinds of judgements that less well qualified individual will make in similar circumstances.

With regard to the government's fear about the electorate turning on the Spanish government in the wake of the Madrid bombings, what I find surprising in most analyses is the simplistic notion that they were voted out because they didn't prevent the bombings. I'd suggest that the unseemly haste with which elements of the then Spanish government rushed to the media, their first priority clearly being to manage the public relations angle, rather than to address the immense human tragedy, might have had a little to do with their downfall.

How President Bush won the election

Aaron Swartz on neo-conservatism - or how the republicans won the election through what he suggests was a strategy to lie.

"Frank Luntz is a chief Reppublican strategist. His company, the Luntz Research Corporation, advises major companies and top Republican politicians on how to talk. Luntz’s methods — which he has been ahppy to describe in numerous interviews — are simple: take a topic, think up a number of ways to lie about it, record someone saying them, play the recording for an audience, and ask the audience which lie was most convincing. (Luntz then, of course, tells the person hiring him to use that convincing lie.)"