Friday, May 26, 2006

Getting the point across

Susan Crawford is lamenting the geek community's lack of communication skills when it comes to connecting with Jo Public.

"Many geeks, policy wonks, and policy geeks (the geeks who care about policy and wish they could be wonks) just aren't capable of persuading non-geek/non-wonks that the details of the issues they care about are important. If you took your average cyber-utopian and plunked him down in a bar in Milwaukee and told him to get everyone excited about net neutrality, he'd be lucky to get out of there unscathed. (Possible reality show?)"

This fact of geek life is a frustrating one. You can count up all the lies told by the telcos, you can tick off all the world-changing benefits of the internet, you can be amazed by the serendipity of online life, but you cannot convince the guy in the middle seat flying with you from Atlanta to Chicago that his elected representative is going the wrong way when it comes to giving telcos control over the internet...

She's right. It's a big problem and one of the reasons I started on the book - as John puts it, we've got to get these kinds of ideas into the bloodstream of society. It's also one of the reasons I've just spent a frustrating week trying to polish off Chapter 5 on risk, uncertainty and large scale government information systems (like ID cards). I've done dozens if not hundreds of posts here about these things and should be able to nail it without even thinking by now but it just hasn't been coming out right or at least in a way that Ms/Mr Public would find engaging. I had a sleepless night last night when I finally thought I had grasped the right shape and form but it was just beyond reach again today. Time to just write what comes and then knock it into shape with the help of critical readers.

Back to the Future

C.E. Petit's been thinking along similar lines to the kind of thing I've been saying in my book about intellectual property. (I go back a little further to begin my story with the Battle of the Book in Ireland in the 6th century but it's basically the same theme)

"Four hundred years ago, almost precisely.

In the early part of the seventeenth century, a debate over ownership of written works raged in Parliament...

Two incompatible paradigms struggled for supremacy. On the one hand, the monopolists and their allies...

On the other hand, a puzzlingly diverse set of philosophers, scholars, and others...

In the end, the second group "won" the battle, resulting in the Statute of Anne and, not quite two centuries after that, the IP Clause in the US Constitution. There have been many, many battles over the years since, such as the yet-unsettled battle over whether copyright is a natural right or a statutory right.1 Those battles continue today...

How ironic that we can now see many of the same monopolistic effects railed against in Parliament four hundred years ago… and that this time the monopolists justify their rents with not just their financial and technological prowess, but with twisted interpretations of copyright (particularly work for hire) and commercial law. "

Commission proposes new EU plan to halt biodiversity loss

Commission proposes new EU plan to halt biodiversity loss

Rights renewed, 'Eyes on the Prize' returns

Rights renewed, 'Eyes on the Prize' returns

"The series tells the story of the civil rights movement from the point of view of leaders and ordinary citizens alike, using material from more than 80 footage sources and 95 still archives. One hundred songs were also used.

The clearance rights for the astounding amount of material, which had originally been negotiated to be used for varying periods of time by Blackside, gradually expired.

It took four or five years to raise $915,000 for research, rights clearance, and post-production costs, said Sandra Forman, Blackside attorney and director of the ``Eyes on the Prize" Renewal Project."

Thanks to Furdlog for the pointer.

Shock: most young people not delinquent

Shock: most young people not delinquent shouts the ironic headline of this ARCH post.

"A new report slipped out from the Home Office yesterday: ‘delinquent youth groups and offending behaviour’. Using figures from the British Crime Survey, the researchers have studied the features of what they describe as ‘delinquent’ groups using the following criteria:

* Young people who spend time in groups of three or more (including themselves).
* The group spend a lot of time in public places.
* The group has existed for three months or more.
* The group has engaged in delinquent or criminal behaviour together in the last year.
* The group has at least one structural feature (a name, an area, a leader, or rules).

We’re not sure what ‘delinquent’ means if it’s used as a separate category from ‘criminal’, but that aside, if you read the papers you’ll already know that young people are generally a walking crime wave that terrorises decent, respectable citizens, right? Well, actually, no.

Using the criteria above, the researchers found that just 6% of young people belong to a ‘DYG’ (cool acronym, eh?). And if you’ve ever shrunk against the wall when a group of hoodie-clad black teenagers shuffles past, you’re wasting your energy: less than 1 in 500 ‘DYGs’ consists of black children. By far the most common offence committed by ‘DYGers’ was taking drugs (51%)."

SOCA saves UK high-tech crime unit - offline

John Lettice reports

"Concerns that the work of the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) could be lost in the transfer process to SOCA, the newly formed Serious Organised Crime Agency, are clearly misplaced, if an answer to a Parliamentary question earlier this week is to be believed...

we can sleep soundly in our beds, secure in the knowledge that, somewhere on a USB drive (do look after it, chaps) resides the contents of the NHCTU web site,* ready for redeployment just as soon as we figure out where the blazes to put it. e-Government in action, part 94."

Enron Chiefs found guilty

"The former Enron bosses Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling were yesterday convicted on fraud charges stemming from one of the most infamous scandals in corporate history."

Home Office accused of still burying bad news

From the Guardian,

"The Home Office has again released all of its statistical reports for the month at the same time, aggravating claims that it is placing reporters under "intolerable pressure" and "burying bad news".

Despite pleas from a group of home affairs correspondents, the Home Office has continued the practice, dubbed "research Thursday", of releasing all its reports on one day."

22 reporters have written to the Home Office Director of Communications:

"When a large number of documents were issued on the first 'research Thursday' after the general election, we were assured it was a one-off incident to clear a backlog generated by election purdah," the letter read.

"This is clearly not the case and this week's repetition leads many of us to fear that the practice has been instituted deliberately to 'bury bad news'. "If this is, indeed, the case such dishonourable tactics could only serve to damage the relationship between the home affairs correspondents and the Home Office press office."

I'm not sure what's worse, the Home Office's transparent tactics or the reporters' crying that they can't possibly report all the bad news on the one day. This need for the instant soundbite of the day on the part of the media, rather than in depth sustained research and reporting, contributes significantly to creating the kinds of politicians we have today. Here's a radical notion - maybe the reporters could take the time to study the documents and report on them over the course of the month they'll have to wait for the next Home Office news dump.. er.. research Thursday. We might even end up with some original and intelligent news reports.

A corrupt Congress is shocked to discover a lawless Executive

Jack Balkan is angry over the congressional closing of ranks after the FBI has apparently caught a member of congress engaged in corruption.

"The Bush Administration has, over the past six years, detained American citizens without any of the protections of the Bill of Rights, engaged in cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees, imposed new forms of secrecy to insulate itself from oversight both by the Press and by Congress, used the state secrets privilege to shut down any investigation into its mistreatment of detainees, hid and prevaricated about the evidence justifying, the reasons for, and the cost of Iraqi war, and begun a massive spying program on American citizens. Throughout all of these events, the United States Congress has been essentially supine, unable or unwilling to lift a finger to oppose an executive branch that was simultaneously incompetent, arrogant and out of control. And now, when the FBI catches redhanded a Congressman engaged in the most egregious act of corruption, *now* members of Congress are upset that the Executive is asserting too much authority.

They have their nerve.

Quite frankly, I find the bipartisan closing of ranks over this issue disgusting. If Congressmen are interested in Executive overreaching, they should start demanding that the President justify his NSA program; instead they doing everything they can to paper over its illegalities. They should hold hearings on how the Executive misused and manipulated intelligence reports, hearings that have repeatedly been promised and have repeatedly been postponed. They should hold hearings on the Administrations's policies of no-bid contracts in Iraq and elsewhere, and the many reports of corruption, incompetence, and war profiteering by these very same contractors who didn't have to engage in competition or oversight. They should investigate the President's decisions about torture, about rendition, about detention policies, about, well, you name it-- all the incompetent and corrupt activities of this most incompetent and corrupt Administration.

Instead of being upset about the President spying on Americans without a warrant, and in violation of federal law, the members of the U.S. Congress are upset about the FBI searching a Congressman's office with a legal warrant. Instead of being upset about the cruel, inhuman and degrading tactics of the CIA and military interrogators, members of the U.S. Congress are upset that a corrupt Congressman's office has been disturbed. Instead of being upset about abuses of government contracting and incompetence that have cost the tax payers countless sums of money and sapped resources from our troops overseas, members of Congress are busy protecting corruption in the halls of Congress itself...

The American Constitution is premised on the idea that any Executive overreaching that might take us on the path to tyranny and dictatorship would be met with Congressional objection and Congressional oversight. For six years we have been subjected to an arrogant, self-righteous, and incompetent Administration, which has grabbed for power and avoided accountability in every way it could, chipping away at Americans' proud traditions of freedom, harming our country's interests around the world and undermining the deliberative processes that produce sound policy and good governance. It is an Administration blinded by smug self-righteousness, devoted not to the development of competent and sound policies for the governance of our country, but to the concentration and perpetuation of its own power. But at the moment that we need the Congress most, it is feckless, corrupt, and venal, offering no resistance to mounting evidence of this Administration's illegality and incompetence. If Congress now finds that Executive power is encroaching a bit too close for comfort, it is poetic justice, for this Congress has thoroughly abdicated its constitutional responsibilities to protect the American people from Executive overreaching."

Rap artists accised of copyright infringement of "like that"

A couple of rap artists, who had a hit with a song called "Stand Up" are being accused of copyright infringement by a group called "It's Our Family".

"The specific accusation seems to be that "Stand Up" repeats many time the phrase "just like that" while the song "Straight Like That" repeats the phrase "straight like that." I guess the accusation is that "It's Our Family" owns the rights to the words "like that" at least if it is repeated enough times."

Stick with it - I had to read that three times before I stopped mixing up the group names, song titles and phrases. ;-)

RyanAir want court to order identification of online pilot critics

TJ McIntyre is reporting that RyanAir have been back in the High Court in Ireland seeking an order to identify some of their pilots who have been anonymously criticising the company online. This case has been going on for over a year.

CPTech promote A2K bill

The Consumer Project on Technology are seeking support for an access to knowledge bill in the US sponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT).

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Patients' needs are what must drive drug research

Patients' needs, not profits, are what must drive drug research say Rowan Gillies and Ellen T Hoen of Médecins Sans Frontières in today's FT.

"Médecins Sans Frontières' experience in our field programmes shows how neglected diseases continue to wreak their deadly toll. In the absence of a reliable and suitable test for tuberculosis, patients continue to go undetected and die. Those who are diagnosed are treated with a lengthy and increasingly inefficient regimen dating from the 1950s and 1960s. The most common treatments for sleeping sickness and the parasitic disease kala-azar both rely on drugs with potentially lethal toxic side-effects. Even Aids is a neglected disease - we still have no suitable diagnostic tool for infants and no appropriate medicines for children.

This is because the system that drives research and development today steers investment towards areas of guaranteed profitability. It is a system in which governments fail to set the priorities for medical research. It is a system in which there is no attempt to find a balance between global medical need and resource allocation. And it is a system entrenched in intellectual property regulation and trade agreements, which a World Health Organisation commission concluded in April show no evidence of boosting R&D in pharmaceuticals for diseases affecting developing countries.

But patients in rich countries are losing out, too. For this is also a system in which those doing the R&D are rewarded more for developing a drug that will sell than one that will meet unaddressed health needs...

It is high time for the WHO to address this problem. As health ministers gather in Geneva for the World Health Assembly this week, they will discuss a resolution proposed by Kenya and Brazil for a "global framework for essential health R&D". The resolution calls on governments to establish mechanisms that ensure medical research addresses the health needs of patients and not commercial dictates; that it delivers affordable products; and that it attracts sustainable long-term funding that is equitably shared among countries. When the system is broken, you fix it - now is the chance for governments and the WHO finally to do so."

There are a range of studies all over the world which suggest that of the thousands of 'new' drugs developed by the pharmaceutical industry over the past twenty five or thirty years, most of them haven't really brought anything new in the way of treatment. Pharmaceutical companies are profit driven and will therefore focus on drugs that make money. That's the nature of business. They have no incentive to invest in R&D to produce treatments for neglected diseases because the people and communities suffering from those diseases largely don't have the means to contribute sufficiently to the drug industries' bottom lines. When the market fails in an area of overwhelming public interest, it is time, as Gillies and Hoen say, for governments to step in.

The Consumer Project on Technology have some further details on the draft resolution proposed by Kenya and Brazil for a "global framework for essential health R&D" is available anywhere but

Can the NSA really find meaningful patterns in phone records?

Can the NSA really find meaningful patterns in phone records?

"There's a lot we still don't know -- and may never know -- about the National Security Agency's surveillance of Americans' phone calls. But one striking tidbit has emerged: that the agency is mining phone records for patterns of terrorist activity.

USA Today reported May 11 that the NSA was performing ``social network analysis'' to detect patterns of terrorist activity in its database of U.S. call records. In defending the program, Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., confirmed that the White House had told him the NSA was probing calling patterns to ``detect and track suspected terrorist activity.''

But is that really possible?

The ``tracking'' part makes sense. Assuming that intelligence had sussed out suspected terrorists, certainly the vast database could be used to track whom those people had called.

The ``detecting'' part, however, is another story. Can terrorists be spotted simply by analyzing who calls whom and when -- without any other leads? There's reason to be skeptical."

4 Mayors challenge NSA and telcos

Furdlog reports that Massachusetts Mayors have entering the NSA wiretap fray.

"Four Massachusetts mayors are filing a complaint with the state department that oversees telecommunications companies, part of a national campaign by the American Civil Liberties Union to demand information on whether the nation's largest security agency has gained access to private phone records.

[…] Massachusetts will play a prominent role in the campaign, because it is believed to be the only state where mayors can file complaints that require public hearings before the state Department of Telecommunications and Energy, said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

The mayors of Newton, Somerville, Northampton, and Chicopee are requesting a public hearing with the department to question whether the companies violated the law. The ACLU has asked that the Federal Communications Commission and 20 state public utilities commissions take action. "

21st century wiretapping storing data

Ed Felten's latest post in his series about 21st century wiretapping is up.

"Suppose the government gathered information about all phone calls, including the calling and called numbers and the duration of the call, and then stored that information in a giant database, in the hope that it might prove useful later in criminal investigations or foreign intelligence. Unlike the recently disclosed NSA call database, which is apparently data-mined, we’ll assume that the data isn’t used immediately but is only stored until it might be needed. Under what circumstances should this be allowed?

We can start by observing that government should not have free rein to store any data it likes, because storing data, even if it is not supposed to be accessed, still imposes some privacy harm on citizens...

It follows that, before storing such data, government should have to make some kind of showing that the expected value of storing the data outweighs the harms, and that there should be some kind of plan for minimizing the harms, for example by storing the data securely (even against rogue insiders) and discarding the data after some predefined time interval.

The most important safeguard would be an enforceable promise by government not to use the data without getting further permission (and showing sufficient cause)...

Part of the required showing, I think, would have to be an argument that there is not some way to store much less data and still get nearly the same benefit. An alternative to storing data on everybody is to store data only about people who are suspected of being bad guys and therefore are more likely to be targets of future investigations."

The Social Life Of Books

The Social Life Of Books

XM Radio Fans Can Record It if They Hear It

From the NYT XM Radio Fans Can Record It if They Hear It

"TO be filed under Best Ideas of the Year: Imagine a tiny music player, smaller than an iPod, that's also an XM satellite radio receiver. When you hear a song you like — even if it's halfway over — one press of a button records it from the beginning.

Meet the Samsung Helix (and its twin, the Pioneer Inno): a tiny, well-designed $400 radio that not only lets you enjoy satellite radio in the car, at home or when you're jogging, but also plays back your own MP3 files and up to 750 songs that you've recorded from the satellites...

Now, not everybody is happy about this feature of the Helix and its Pioneer sibling. XM, which was largely responsible for the design of both players, has been sued by the increasingly busy lawyers of the Recording Industry Association of America. They're calling the design of these players "a tool for copyright infringement."

Truth is, on the pure silliness scale, the association's case ranks right up there with Monty Python. You've already paid to listen to these XM songs; all the Helix adds is the ability to time-shift and replay them, just as people have done with audiocassettes for decades. Once you record a song to the Helix's memory, that's where it stays. You can't burn it to a CD or transfer it to a computer; you can't move, copy or distribute it in any way."

Lib Dems mass passport renewal

From the Guardian,

"A team of Liberal Democrat MPs today renewed their passports en masse - in protest at the government's plans for a compulsory identity database.

Nick Clegg and the home affairs team of the party prematurely renewed their passports in a stunt at Westminster passport office to highlight the looming deadline for those wishing to avoid enrolling on the national identity register."

German Constitutional Court outlaws preventive data screening

From EDRI-gram, the German Constitutional Court has outlawed preventive data screening.

"On 22 May the German Constitutional Court has declared illegal under the German Constitution the practice of screening data across several private and public databases in order to find potential terrorists ("sleepers"). Several federal states will now have to change their police laws. The decision does not make data screening ("Rasterfahndung", literally: "grid investigation", usual transliterations: "dragnet investigation" or "data trawl") completely illegal, but binds it to very narrow conditions."

Also from EDRI-gram, it looks as though there could be significant and growing support in Germany for a challenge to the EU data retention directive through the European Court of Justice. The recent controversy in the US over the legality of the President Bush-authorised NSA collection of large quantities of telecommunications data, seems to have galvanised German political and public support for such a challenge.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Democrats would be worse?

Glenn Greenwald, author of How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok, is not a big fan of George W. Bush or the collective members of the Senate and the House who have failed to challenge some of his more controversial actions. But he actually believes that Democratic success in the elections later in the year could lead to even less controls.

"Democrats are afraid to challenge the President due to their fear -- always due to their fear -- that they will be depicted as mean, obstructionist and weak on national security. And so, even with an unbelievable weakened President, and even with regard to the most consequential issues -- and can one doubt that installing Gen. Hayden as CIA Director is consequential? -- Democrats back away from fights, take no clear position, divide against each other, and stand up for exactly nothing...

I've written before that, at least to me, the principal if not exclusive benefit of the Democrats taking over one or both of the Congressional houses in November is that it will impose some checks and limitations on the behavior of the administration and, specifically, will finally result in meaningful investigations into what has happened in our country and to our government over the last five years. But I have serious doubts about whether that would really happen...

I think Congressional Democrats will be more cautious and passive, not less so, if they take over one of the Congressional houses in 2006. People who operate from a place of fear and excess caution become even more timid and fearful when they have something to lose."

And the something they have to lose is the control of the Senate or House and the White House in 2008. So perhaps President Bush doesn't need to be quite so worried about the calls for his impeachment, even if there is a change in the balance of power after the elections.

James Joyce Copyright FAQ

The International James Joyce Foundation have produced a helpful JAMES JOYCE: COPYRIGHT, FAIR USE, AND PERMISSIONS FAQ "to acquaint scholars, performers, and adaptors of James Joyce’s work with the principles of copyright protection and users’ rights and to help them to productive interactions with the Estate of James Joyce in the event they choose to seek permissions to quote from, perform, or adapt Joyce’s work, and also to enable them to know better when copyright permissions are not legally necessary."

Europa change web address

As is the way with these things, Europa have changed their web address to include .eu, without maintaining the links to the documents posted under their original urls. So the dozens or perhaps even in the hundreds of links I've made here to EU documents over the past four years will now find a page unobtainable error.

I'm not alone in being irritated. Unlike EU Law blog, however, I'm not considering updating the links in old posts. Life is too short. Can I suggest to frustrated readers looking at broken links that you modify the first part of the url to read in the first instance and failing sucess through that route, try the Europa search engine (I know - not the most user friendly of the breed) with the precise title of the document you're looking for.

It's the inevitable consequence of the all too common "I've got a great idea, now Y has happened, let's do X with our big information system", without remotely considering the knock on effects. Can somebody please remind them that a system is an assembly of components connected together in an organised way. It they want to change a key component, can they please try to think about the knock on effects and the system's users? It's really not a lot to ask.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Democrats, Bush and the NSA domestic spying

Marty Lederman wonders why the Democrats are not making more of the allegedly illegal NSA mass domestic phone surveillance authorised by the Bush administration.

"So, why aren't the Senate Democrats making more of a fuss about the fact that the Attorney General and Michael Hayden determined to ignore FISA on the theory that the President has the constitutional power to violate such statutes? If Hayden's testimony is any indication, there appear to be two reasons:

First, it appears that Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi, Jane Harman, and Bob Graham were repeatedly briefed on the program. The Democrats have not yet come up with an adequate explanation of why their leaders did not object...

Second, if Hayden is to be believed, the members of Congress who were briefed agreed with the Administration that: (i) The program was useful but in violation of FISA; (ii) The best way to deal with the program of FISA's obsolescence was to amend FISA to accommodate the program; but (iii) To amend FISA in such a way would risk public revelation of NSA methods that had to remain secret...

assume what might well be the case: that the Administration (and possibly some in Congress) did not wish to amend FISA to make the NSA program lawful because there is a genuine and distinct tactical advantage in having our enemies think that we are abiding by the rule of law declared in the U.S. Code, when in fact we are not doing so.

So here's the question: Is it acceptable in a liberal democracy for a nation's positive law to announce to the world that Conduct X is unlawful, but for the government to secretly engage in such conduct nonetheless?"

Actually I don't think it is acceptable but the more important issue from a security perspective is that the enemy, say some terrorist organisation, is not going to rely on that liberal democracy following its own laws. You cannot manage the perception of the terrorist either by explicitly following or just pretending to follow your own laws. In the latter case it is a secret that is extremely brittle and quickly exposed in the shape of
leaks like the USA Today or Wired stories and the terrorists' encounters with that state. It is therefore of little or no value from a security perspective.

Wanadoo in customer data security breach

The Guardian reports "Wanadoo, which has 2 million internet subscribers in Britain, admitted that a technical mistake led to swaths of customer account information - including their real names and passwords - being published online."

Personal data of US veterans stolen

The Washington Post reports that "As many as 26.5 million veterans were placed at risk of identity theft after an intruder stole an electronic data file this month containing their names, birth dates and Social Security numbers from the home of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee"

German eDonkey users face criminal charges

In news to delight the hearts of the most hard-bitten music industry executives, "German police have filed criminal charges against 3,500 people accused of using the eDonkey file-sharing network to share copyrighted music illegally"

Getting the authorities to fund the fight against copyright infringement has been the dream of the music industry for so long that they'll be dancing with glee in the executive suites of the big four and their trade groups, the BPI, RIAA and IFPI. If their net catches some large scale commercial infringers then by all means prosecute them but I sincerely hope this does not end up with naive teenagers going to jail just to 'send a message.'

Veteran war reporter blasts Rumsfeld

Veteran US war reporter, Joe Galloway, has let fly in a series of email exchanges with US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld's press secretary, Larry Darita. It's absolutely remarkable to see Galloway's deeply passionate attempts to knock some sense of reality into the Rumsfeld sounding board bouncing away without any chance of being heard. How would you respond to this:

"i like to think that is what i am doing also, and it is a struggle that grows out of my obligation to and love for america's warriors going back 41 years as of last month. there are many things we all could wish had happened. i can wish that your boss had surrounded himself with close advisers who had, once at least, held a dying boy in their arms and watched the life run out of his eyes while they lied to him and told him, over and over, "You are going to be all right. Hang on! Help is coming. Don't quit now..." Such men in place of those who had never known service or combat or the true cost of war, and who pays that price, and had never sent their children off to do that hard and unending duty. i could wish for so much. i could wish that in january of this year i had not stood in a garbage-strewn pit, in deep mud, and watched soldiers tear apart the wreckage of a kiowa warrior shot down just minutes before and tenderly remove the barely alive body of WO Kyle Jackson and the lifeless body of his fellow pilot. they died flying overhead cover for a little three-vehicle Stryker patrol with which i was riding at the time. i could wish that Jackson's widow Betsy had not found, among the possessions of her late husband, a copy of my book, carefully earmarked at a chapter titled Brave Aviators, which Kyle was reading at the time of his death. That she had not enclosed a photo of her husband, herself and a 3 year old baby girl. those things i received in the mail yesterday and they brought back the tears that i wept standing there in that pit, feeling the same shards in my heart that i felt the first time i looked into the face of a fallen american soldier 41 years ago on a barren hill in Quang Ngai Province in another time, another war. someone once asked me if i had learned anything from going to war so many times. my reply: yes, i learned how to cry."

Darita's reply was:

"I appreciate what you are saying but your continued implication that rumsfeld does not understand all that is at stake is wrong and offensive."

I'm speechless.

AG Gonzales says reporters will be prosecuted

US Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, in the wake of the revelations about the telcos handing call data to NSA, and the admission that the data on journalists' calls would be closely scrutinised, has now said explicitly that reporters telephone calls will be tracked and reporters will be prosecuted where necessary because the adminstration has an "obligation to ensure that our national security is protected." He cushioned this somewhat by saying it would not be done routinely or randomly.

Does that mean that the journalists and publications who published the identity of a CIA employee, the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, would be prosecuted under this standard, as well as or instead of the officials who leaked her name?

Update: Prof. Geoffrey Stone, a well known constitutional scholar at Chicago Law School, has published an excerpt from a memo he submitted to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on the press's publication of unauthorized disclosures of classified information. He basically says what Gonzales is proposing is a bad idea. Stone published a great book a couple of years ago, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism

Monday, May 22, 2006

Student asked for DNA after posting murder fiction on the Net

The University of Florida police have allegedly repeatedly attempted to pressurise a student into giving his fingerprints and DNA after he wrote a short piece of murder fiction which he then posted on the Net.

"The university police at Gainesville's University of Florida have targeted a graduate student in the English program over his publication of a piece of horror fiction on his LiveJournal. The police have repeatedly visited the student and demanded that he submit his fingerprints and DNA to them so that they can compare the fictional murder he described in his story to evidence from any similar unsolved murders."

Educating the lay public about science

Peter Suber believes that open access has an important role to play in improving the lay public's understanding of science

"My question is, What role can open access play in this? I'm not so optimistic as to think that simply making primary science easily available online will do much to foster scientific literacy and scientific knowledge among non-scientists, let alone convert creationists to evolutionists. Easy access completes the puzzle when there is antecedent interest and background, and we need help from teachers, journalists, and politicians to create that interest and background. For the same reason, however, I'm not so pessimistic as to think that OA will make no difference.

There are two mistakes to avoid here. One is to think that OA has no role to play in helping non-scientists understand science. We can call this the Royal Society mistake, after the RS's recent report on educating lay readers about science that doesn't even mention OA. The other mistake is to think that the overriding purpose of OA is to educate lay readers. No OA advocates believe this, but some publisher-opponents of OA either believe it or pretend to believe it in order set it up as a straw man and knock it down. (The most recent example is the American Society of Human Genetics, as quoted in the NYTimes for May 8.) To avoid both mistakes we have to accept that the problem and solution are both complicated. OA will play a role in public education about science --it's neither irrelevant nor sufficient-- and the size of that role is up to all of us."



Kim Cameron notes that an IBM researcher has come to the same conclusions on the UK Id card scheme as he himself did. Kim says:

"My central “aha” in studying the British government’s proposal was that the natural contextual specialization of everyday life is healthy and protective of the structure of our social systems, and this should be reflected in our technical systems. A technology proposal that aims to eliminate compartmentalization rejects one of the fundamental protective mechanisms society has evolved. The resulting central database, where everything is connected and visible to everything else, is as vulnerable as a steel ship with no compartments - one perforation, and the whole thing goes down.

The starting point for a security thinker is that there will be perforations. In low value systems, the breach will come from neglect. In a high value system, there will be conscious attacks mounted both from without and within, and one must assume that one of these will succeed.

Our art consists in reducing the frequency of such perforations, and - once a breach occurs - minimizing the damage that is done. The current British proposal masterfully maximizes such damage, like a fire extinguisher full of gasoline. "

The IBM man, Michael Osborne "slated the UK government’s ID cards scheme on the grounds of cost, over-centralisation, and being the wrong tool for the job."

Update: John Lettice has been examining the prime minister's faith in the ability of technology - in the form of eBorders and ID cards - to solve the immigration problem

"Blair, under severe pressure from opposition leader David Cameron, appropriately enough described an e-Borders and ID card based Fortress Britain as the ultimate fix for illegal immigration...

But we shouldn't be too hard on Tony here; yes, he's placing an absurd amount of faith in technology which cannot supply a solution, but he's not alone there, just maybe a bit further out on a limb than the rest of Western Europe, all of which, to a greater or lesser extent, is in denial."

Champion privacy if you've nothing to hide

Bruce Schneier writing in Wired gets right to the heart of the the surveillance and privacy story.

"The most common retort against privacy advocates -- by those in favor of ID checks, cameras, databases, data mining and other wholesale surveillance measures -- is this line: "If you aren't doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide?"

Some clever answers: "If I'm not doing anything wrong, then you have no cause to watch me." "Because the government gets to define what's wrong, and they keep changing the definition." "Because you might do something wrong with my information." My problem with quips like these -- as right as they are -- is that they accept the premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong. It's not. Privacy is an inherent human right, and a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect...

Too many wrongly characterize the debate as "security versus privacy." The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that's why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide."

William Heath wants to get Bruce to talk to some senior government "officials of good character and intellect who are grappling with this stuff." I wish him luck with that venture and have long suggested it would be a good idea. At the very least we should put a copy of Bruce's book, Beyond Fear, in the hands of those officials and insist they read it. It'll be the best half day education on these issues that they will ever have.

Update: Daniel Solove wonders if there can be a compelling response with widespread appeal to the 'nothing to hide' argument.

Religious hatred part of Saudi school curriculum

Nick Shea in the Washington Post claims that teaching children to hate non muslims is part of the school curriculum in Saudi Arabia, in spite of the claims to the contrary of the Saudi Ambassador to the US recently.

Richard Dawkins won't be surprised.

CRB database errors

The exposure of the errors on the Criminal Records Bureau database and the effects on the lives of ordinary people is a classic example of the damage that "false positives" generated by this kind of system can do. Nearly 3000 people were affected, some turned down for jobs and the like. And the CRB system is only a tiny fraction of the size of the proposed national identity register.

Add to that the serious questions raised by the case of former police officer,Shirley McKie, demonstrating the way in which things can go wrong in the processing and analysis of fingerprints.

Two important parts of the national ID card system involve maintaining complex accurate records of personal details and fingerprints. They are just two amongst many, however. Now how confident can we really be that the Home Office are capable of managing those two parts let alone the rest of the system?

(BTW for the ID geeks - I know it's not as simple as separating just two items out like that but I'm just trying to illustrate the point)

The music genome project

Here's an interesting idea:

"On January 6, 2000 a group of musicians and music-loving technologists came together with the idea of creating the most comprehensive analysis of music ever.

Together we set out to capture the essence of music at the most fundamental level. We ended up assembling literally hundreds of musical attributes or "genes" into a very large Music Genome. Taken together these genes capture the unique and magical musical identity of a song - everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony. It's not about what a band looks like, or what genre they supposedly belong to, or about who buys their records - it's about what each individual song sounds like.

Over the past 5 years, we've carefully listened to the songs of over 10,000 different artists - ranging from popular to obscure - and analyzed the musical qualities of each song one attribute at a time. This work continues each and every day as we endeavor to include all the great new stuff coming out of studios, clubs and garages around the world.

It has been quite an adventure, you could say a little crazy - but now that we've created this extraordinary collection of music analysis, we think we can help be your guide as you explore your favorite parts of the music universe.

We hope you enjoy the journey.

Tim Westergren
The Music Genome Project"

Anti-GPL lawsuit fails again

Daniel Wallace, who believes that free and open source software are anti-competitive, or at least has been prepared to go to court (twice so far) to try and get a legal declaration to that effect, has lost again. That he has lost would seem to strike a blow for sanity at least at one intersection where technology meets the law. His argument has been that the price of free and open source software is so low that it makes it difficult for him to enter the market with more expensive software.

No seriously - that's his beef - and if we examine the Microsoft campaigns against open source and the content industry's campaigns against new technologies, their messages are pretty similar - 'OS is a virus,' 'you can't compete with pirates offering free content' etc. - it's just that Microsoft and the content industries have much more sophisticated PR operations than Mr Wallace. And they are much more effective at getting us to believe that white is black or vice versa.

In any case it is good to know that at least two judges seem to believe that selling decent software at low prices is not anti-competitive.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Forget about targets - and decide what really matters

Simon Caulkin sets his sights on targets in his Observer column today. Basically setting simplistic targets for complex systems is a recipe for disaster.

"Well, I was right about targets and foreign criminals. According to a Panorama special aired last week, the reason so many villains with exotic accents have vanished unhindered into the countryside at the end of their prison sentences is that, until last month, officials at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate weren't answering prison officers' phone calls asking what to do with them - they were too busy working out how to fulfil the Prime Minister's party conference pledge to deport more failed asylum seekers than were applying to stay...

Einstein said that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result was a definition of insanity. That's what the obsession with targets is. Whether in business or public service, misuse of targets is the single most important reason for public cynicism, rock-bottom employee morale and failed improvement efforts. Targets wreck systems, driving up costs and making things worse...

Some targets do work- and that's one of their biggest problems. Because they are products of one world view applied to another - reductive mechanical measures applied to non-mechanical systems - targets have unpredictable and quickly ramifying consequences. To cut waiting lists hospitals do easier, rather than more urgent, operations; to meet exam pass rates schools exclude difficult students or encourage them into easier subjects; and to hit City earnings targets companies overstate profits or cut advertising or R&D budgets. Enron was the most target-driven company on earth, and to meet its targets it tore itself apart. The reply to ministers' repeated refrain that 'the private sector has targets' is: look at Enron."

Read the whole thing.