Friday, June 23, 2006

International banking data handed to US intelligence

Spy Blog is pointing to an NYT story which claims that large quantities of international banking transactions data have been handed over wholesale to US intelligence services to aid the war on terror.

Rudmin's data mining fallacy applies.

Lost Girls Graphic Novel and Great Ormond Street

There's another copyright controversy in the offing involing Great Ormond Street Hospital's perpetual right to royalities in respect of uses of Peter Pan. Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s Lost Girls adult graphic novel "imagines a meeting between Wendy (of Peter Pan), Alice (of Alice in Wonderland) and Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz) once they have grown up."

Hospital trustees are apparently considering suing to have the book banned in the UK and Europe.

Update: BoingBoing has some related links. GOSH spokesman Stephen Cox said "From press coverage, we understand it deals with sensitive subject matter which does not initially seem appropriate to be associated with the hospital and with J.M. Barrie's legacy to us." I doubt that there will be too many people inclined to associate a pornographic (or "adult" or "erotic fiction") comic with Great Ormond Street.
Jack Balkan reports that Joyce Green has set up an index to all of President Bush's presidential signing statements. She says:

"Please steal this site. No copyright, intellectual property, or other rights are claimed in any of the materials presented here. No one owns these statements, and I am willing to forego my sweat equity in this website. The purpose of this webpage is to provide free convenient access -- for the entire world -- to the text of George W. Bush's presidential signing statements. Feel free to data mine or swipe the entire website if you are so inclined. Attribution would be nice, but it is not obligatory. If you are willing to give this information a permanent home on the web, I will give you the files for free. This domain is a temporary home for this project. I want to return my domain to its intended use, which is to house an arts project."

US National Academies report says global warming real

The National Academies have released a report, no doubt to the considerable irritation of the Bush administration, saying that they have concluded "with a high level of confidence" that the earth is the warmest it has been in the past 400 years.

"There is sufficient evidence from tree rings, boreholes, retreating glaciers, and other "proxies" of past surface temperatures to say with a high level of confidence that the last few decades of the 20th century were warmer than any comparable period in the last 400 years, according to a new report from the National Research Council. Less confidence can be placed in proxy-based reconstructions of surface temperatures for A.D. 900 to 1600, said the committee that wrote the report, although the available proxy evidence does indicate that many locations were warmer during the past 25 years than during any other 25-year period since 900."

Rebalancing the Criminal Justice System?

Tony Blair makes his latest proclamations about how the criminal justice system is failing law abiding people and promoting the cause of criminals today. Here we go with another law and order act (there have been more than 40 since Labour came to power in 1997). Interestingly he had a chat with some experts at Downing Street last week and asked them to send him their considered thoughts. Professors of Criminology, Ian Loader and Anthony Bottoms, Chief Constable Peter Neyroud, MP John Denham, Criminologist Julian Roberts (Loader's colleague at Oxford University) and Greg Wilkinson a partner at Ernst and Young have all written to him. Professor Loader is the most direct. Since he is so critical of the PM I'm not sure how long No.10 will retain the letter on its website though it's been there for a couple of days now. So I hope the good professor doesn't mind me quoting most of it here:

"I shall assume good faith on your part, which is to say I take it that you are interested in thinking seriously about how governments respond to crime, disorder and public insecurity in a liberal democracy and that you are not solely or mainly engaged in an exercise in electoral calculation and political positioning.

Let me start by repeating the point I made at the seminar. Our society has since the early 1980s been governed by administrations that have, shall we say, taken law and order extremely seriously, a focus that has become even more emphatic since 1993. None of these administrations has been particularly supportive of what the invitation letter revealingly called 'the rights of the criminal'. Yet you are now asking us to believe that during this period the criminal justice system has become 'unbalanced', such that it today unduly privileges the rights of criminals (we should of course say suspects) over those of the victim in ways that have led society to be poorly defended against crime. I simply think you need to offer more serious evidence than any I have seen that this is in fact the case, rather than simply assert that it is so, or that 'the public' believes it to be so. One needs also to exercise some care here with the metaphor of 'balance'. The idea of balance almost always functions in these discussions as a piece of rhetorical trickery, one that performs no real work in helping us to consider seriously the issues at hand (who, after all, is in favour of 'imbalance'?). It offers no criteria whatsoever for determining what the right 'balance' looks like, sets up the whole debate as an entirely zero-sum game between 'criminals' and 'victims', and offers no resources for protecting the criminal justice system from utilitarian calculation...

There are members of this society who plainly feel the way you say they do about crime and punishment - angry, let down and demanding of a response. (I have over the last decade spent countless hours interviewing people at length about crime and its place in their lives and have heard it all first hand.) But I think they are in fact in a minority, albeit one that makes or prompts a lot of noise. It is also not clear to me that governments can or should respond to their demands in the terms in which they are expressed. In fact, I rather suspect that such demands may be insatiable if responded to in these terms. People are also sometimes calling for things that are, to be blunt, not very nice, and which ought not in a liberal democracy to be acceded to.

Listening to you speak about these matters, however, you seem to take the view that the role of government is to act as an uncritical cipher for public anger and demands viz. crime and disorder. It is as if - on this issue at least - you have lost confidence in the capacity of government to engage in a dialogue with people, to point out some facts (about resource limitations, or the capacity and effects of prisons, or the constraints on what can be done to tackle crime in a liberal democracy), to put another view, to be a voice of reason and restraint rather than a conduit or cheer-leader for longer sentences and more punishment. But this, it seems to me, is precisely the sort of public conversation that our society urgently needs to have about questions of crime, justice and security, a point to which I return shortly.

There is, further, plenty of evidence to suggest that many members of our society do not feel as concerned or angry or let down by the system as you seem to think that they are. This is the lesson that emerges from the research conducted by Mike Hough and others which suggests both that people know very little about how the system operates (why should they?) and that they are often less severe than judges when asked how they would sentence in actual cases. And it is also the lesson of initiatives such as restorative justice, mediation and (now) community courts.

Put simply, if you ask people about these issues in abstract and general terms (is the criminal justice system failing? is the Human Rights Act silly? are young people today out of control?) they are likely to supply you with an affirmative - and often bewildered or angry - answer. But if you present them with real cases, or ask them about the youths on the corner, or engage them in problem-solving at local level, they are much less likely to think, sound and act like 'the public' that you believe the body politic needs pressingly to respond to. My question then is this: why do you seem so unwilling to take this evidence seriously and use it as the basis for constructing an altogether different narrative about crime (which after all has been going down for over a decade)? Do you not believe it? Or has it become simply too risky politically for government (perhaps any government) to accept and act upon it...

My worry here is several fold: first, I think the government is in danger of over-investing in criminal justice and forgetting the lesson that we tell every novice criminology student - namely, that policing, criminal justice and punishment have an important but ultimately small and peripheral part to play in the production of orderly societies; second; it often sounds as if you think the criminal justice system is a delivery arm of government. But it isn't. I know this must seem frustrating from where you sit, but courts are meant to function as checks and constraints, both on government over-zealousness and on police forces who may too easily presume to know that they have 'got the right person'. Third, you run the risk, once again, of raising public expectations in what the criminal justice system can deliver in ways that risk the government being hoist by it own petard, and which do nothing to break the vicious circle of scandal, media frenzy and 'firm' government response that has come to surround this area of public policy making in the last decade.

So what would I do? Let me offer three broad suggestions, or orientations.

Last year you delivered a lecture to the Institute of Public Policy Research on risk and public policy. It was full of extremely sensible statements to the effect that 'government cannot eliminate all risk', that 'not every scandal requires a regulatory response', that 'we need to involve the media in a better dialogue about risk', and that 'we cannot eliminate risk. We have to live with it, manage it'. This, it seems to me, offers a better starting point for thinking about crime, disorder and terrorism than the one that government seems currently to apply to crime risks. I know this is hard (though you said it was hard in relation to risks generally), not least because crime has a moral and emotional resonance that other risks seem not to possess, at least at first blush. But tackling crime, or anti-social behaviour, or terrorism, in ways that are consistent with living in and sustaining a decent, civilized, liberal democratic society requires us not to speak of 'eradication' (the term you resorted to when launching the Respect agenda), but of addressing problems in ways that that enable citizens to live securely with risk...

What follows from this: concentrate on discovering, funding, delivering and explaining to people programmes that work (whether in terms of prison education, or reassurance policing, or better detection - Polly Toynbee was right about this (Guardian, 9 June), while, at the same time, seeking to reduce the political and media heat that has come to surround crime and punishment. This has become, under your government, an area of legislative hyperactivity (with in excess of 40 Acts of Parliament passed in this field since 1997), and endless proclamations of intent. As an observer, I confess this has left me somewhat baffled - activity that seems to have more to do with the imperatives of electoral competition than a serious effort to address problems of crime and disorder. It may even be - as the Home Office has found to its cost in recent weeks - that the dizzying pace of new initiatives has made it more difficult to keep one's eye on the ball of sound administration and delivering programmes that stand some chance of achieving positive results on the ground. So I guess my suggestion is this: think hard before deciding that what our society needs right now is another grand statement of governmental purpose and a further round of headline-grabbing legislation; or at the very least think carefully about the kind of message you wish to send, lest you end up inadvertently reinforcing, or even stirring up, the very concerns you think government needs to assuage. Might, in fact, it be better to begin to think instead about how to dismount the tiger that politicians have in recent years collectively convinced themselves they have no alternative but to ride.

Please, finally, try to find another - more responsible, more compelling, more solidaristic - language for talking about human rights. It strikes me that you - and the Henry Porter's of the world - have got into the habit of thinking about rights in overly individualistic terms...

It is worth recalling here that politicians nearly always (can you think of a counter example?) become less concerned about protecting civil liberties once they enter government, something which suggests that what changes is less the 'facts' on the ground and more the peculiarity of the perspective from which they come to view them. What is forgotten on both sides of this debate is that human rights, or any of the other checks and protections that 'we' build into the criminal justice system, exist not only or even mainly to protect individuals, deserving or otherwise. They are rather, the mark of a decent, civilized society and as such things that we have a collective stake in being proud of and defending. Rights, in short, are preconditions for the police and justice system being able to contribute positively to citizen security in a democratic society, and they ought to be articulated and defended as such.

I rather suspect that you and I do not see entirely eye-to-eye on these matters, something that may (or may not) be a product of the respective places from which we approach them. I nonetheless hope that you find these reflections of some assistance in helping you to come to a settled view on these vital matters."


How to Fed-Ex the Pope

Lawrence Krauss Prof. of Physics and Astronomy at Case Western University, tells a lovely story at the Edge of getting a letter to the Pope, after reading reading the New York Times OpEd page essay "Finding Design in Nature" by Christoph Schönborn, the Roman Catholic cardinal archbishop of Vienna.

"My letter to the Pope was actually the second round. The first piece I wrote caused my wife to say I totally sold out. That piece was for the Times, arguing that science and religion were compatible...

It was an innocuous piece. Nothing much happened from that, I didn't get any hate mail, and the piece disappeared. Then an OpEd piece appeared from Cardinal Schönborn in the New York Times...

The next day the Times called and told me that the Cardinal's piece was written in response to your piece, and we're doing a story. I decided, okay, I really need to act here...I felt that by showing that the Catholic Church wasn't opposed to evolution, I could point out something very important, which was that you don't have to be an atheist to believe in science...

I studied the Catholic theology, and the International Theological Commission, and wrote the letter. Francisco Ayala, a prominent biologist, who had previously been a priest, signed onto it, along with Ken Miller. a well-known biologist who's also a devout Catholic and who was a key witness against Intelligent Design in the Dover trial. Then I sent it the letter to the Pope. Or, better said, I tried to send the letter. But, how do you Fed-Ex the Pope?

...The Fed-Ex package is on it's way. Five days later I get a call from Fed-Ex in Italy, saying, we have a Fed-Ex envelope here for Pope Benedict in the Vatican; we can't find this person.

I said, "do you mind if I buy futures in Fed-Ex and then announce that you can't find the Pope in the Vatican?" They thought that was amusing. Two days later Fed-Ex calls saying, we need a street address.

I had a street address, of his palace, and gave it to them.

Two more days go by and I get a call: "we need a phone number". Amazing. Then they told me that the Pope's office had refused the letter.

At the same time, I had been working through colleagues and friends in the Pontifical Academy in the Vatican, to figure out how to formally do this, and, through this channel, I had also sent the letter to the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. That organization, which Benedict had run, has an illustrious history and a better known name: The Inquisition. And that is the official way to reach the Pope. That Fed-Ex letter went through no problem...

In any event, I did have an important reason for writing to the Pope. I felt that it was very important that he validate what the Catholic Church had said under John Paul, which was that they had no problem with evolution...

the good news is that Schönborn has since recanted. The papal newspaper has produced several articles saying that evolution is compatible with the Catholic theology...

But if we are trying to convince people that science is useful and interesting, we defeat the whole purpose if the very first thing we do is attack their personal beliefs. And if you say, 'you're stupid, now listen to me'. That just doesn't work...

What really upset me and really offends me about these people is that they would rather children be ignorant than be exposed to knowledge that might — quote unquote might — weaken their faith. And that attitude of course is the same with the Taliban.

I do believe the greatest threat to our freedom, in a democracy or not in a democracy, is sort of the censorship that controls information. And knowledge, one way or another, breeds freedom. And so for me, to actively promote ignorance is the worst thing you can do."

Let's repeat that again, the greatest threat to our freedom is the sort of censorship that controls information. Knowledge breeds freedom.

Vodafone, Ericsson Get Hung Up In Greece's Phone-Tap Scandal

The WSJ had a front page story on the tapping of the Greek Prime Minister's cell phone,Vodafone, Ericsson Get Hung Up In Greece's Phone-Tap Scandal. The news broke in March 2005 but there have been very few details reproted since.

What's interesting is that Ericsson's equipment comes pre-installed with software to enable bugging. No doubt this feature is well known to security experts but it was news to me. Fascinating in particular given the row going on in the US about making the Internet CALEA compliant i.e. hardwired for tapping by law enforcement. Here's what the WSJ says:

"Behind the bugging operation were two pieces of sophisticated software, according to Ericsson. One was Ericsson's own, some basic elements of which came as a preinstalled feature of the network equipment. When enabled, the feature can be used for lawful interception by government authorities, which has become increasingly common since the Sept. 11 terror attacks. But to use the interception feature, operators like Vodafone would need to pay Ericsson millions of dollars to purchase the additional hardware, software and passwords that are required to activate it. Both companies say Vodafone hadn't done that in Greece at the time.

The second element was the rogue software that the eavesdroppers implanted in parts of Vodafone's network to achieve two things: activate the Ericsson-made interception feature and at the same time hide all traces that the feature was in use. Ericsson, which analyzed the software in conjunction with Greece's independent telecom watchdog, says it didn't design, develop or install the rogue software.

The software allowed the cellphone calls of the targeted individuals to be monitored via 14 prepaid cellphones, according to the government officials and telecom experts probing the matter. They say when calls to or from one of the more than 100 targeted phones were made, the rogue software enabled one of the interceptor phones to be connected also.

The interceptor phones likely enabled conversations to be secretly recorded elsewhere"

Vodaphone and Ericsson are preparing the ground to avoid liability when the lawyers come hunting them. Vodaphone say they didn't know about the pre-intalled bugging software because Ericsson didn't tell them. Ericsson says Vodaphone should have read the manuals because the information was in there. It's possible senior managers never got to hear about it, of course.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Does It Matter if Copyright Is Property?

Does It Matter if Copyright Is Property? asks William Patry.

"The debate about the provenance of copyright as property is not new, nor has the semantic sleight-of-hand the effort attempts gone unnoticed.At the end of the 19th century, Augustine Birrell wrote:
"...If your right to turn your neighbor off your premises to keep your things to yourself – was property, and therefore ex hypothesi founded on natural justice, he who sought to interfere with your complete dominion was a thief or trespasser, but if your rights were based upon some special concession made to you upon your own merits, you find yourself dubbed a monopolist … Monopoly is always an odious word. Property is still sacred one."
But what if copyright is just a tort, as indeed courts refer to it as. Might that not lead to consideration of things in a different light, one that involves more of the balancing of interests one typically sees, say in, negligence actions, a Coase Theorem of copyright... academia aside, in the real world, one wonders whether the recent willingness of courts to decline issuing injunctions signals a shift toward a less property-oriented view."

Net neutrality has ruined the web

Thomas Greene has seen the light with the help of telco lobbyists and their new animated cartoon "explaining" what a bad idea net neutrality is.

"I thought I knew something about networking, but according to an animated cartoon by telco lobbyists, I've been laboring under numerous misconceptions. For example, I'd always believed it possible to increase both capacity and bandwidth without the kind of traffic discrimination that the telcos would like to introduce. Apparently, that's wrong.

The cartoon clearly illustrates that network neutrality makes it impossible for broadband providers to increase capacity and bandwidth. You've simply got to discriminate between cheap packets and expensive packets to accommodate a large traffic flow. This was an astounding revelation to me...

you need fiber to carry expensive packets. You don't want them mingling with cheap ones.

Silly me; I thought that capacity is capacity, and bandwidth is bandwidth. I'm glad I didn't write any foolish articles advocating net neutrality before I saw that cartoon. It's all so clear now. Evidently, the internet has never worked. And the reason it hasn't worked has nothing to do with corporate greed or media consolidation or general over-promising; it's because the internet is one dumb pipe that can't tell a cheap packet from an expensive one."

Hilarious. The cartoon, although very misleading, is very clever and could easily sway people who don't understand the technology or the debate, like er... politicians.

Update: Seth Johnson and co have a simple suggestion on the Net neutrality debate: let the network operators develop proprietory networks enabling them to control data traffic on those networks but don't let them call these walled gardens 'the Internet' and prosecute distorted offerings of Internet connectivity as "deceptive practice." So in Benkler's three layers, the TCP/IP code layer would remain neutral on the Internet. They've produced a nice introduction and summary for Congressional staff. This solution has a very neat ring to it that avoids the huge complications of trying to regulate Net neutrality at the content/applications layer which is what certain US proposals were attempting to do. It also facilitates competition between these walled gardens focussed on delivering content to the passive viewer and the real Internet which faciltates indiscriminate data flows.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Big boost for censorware cos down under

ZDNet reports that the Australian government have announced they will spend $86 million on software filters for every family. Helen Coonan, the minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts says

"Under this scheme, families will be offered a filtered service or a free filter for their home computer, either for download from a dedicated Web site or delivered to them on CD-ROM. All ISPs will also be required to offer filters to new and existing customers at no additional cost."

This is a bad idea. With a triple x in the title and url of this blog I regularly get "filtered" by lousy software proporting to be protecting Web users from inappropriate content. But the NetNanny type software just doesn't work - it censors innocuous sites and those that criticise censorware and lets though hard porn, whilst creating the illusion that it is protecting the children. There is no substitute for parents teaching their kids to be streetwise about the Net. The Aussie government are buying into an illusion that the software filter companies are only too happy to sell them.

Commission move to comply with ECJ ruling

The EU Commission, as expected, have moved to comply with the ECJ ruling declaring the transfer of air passenger name records to the US authorities illegal. They have adopted "two initiatives to comply with the Ruling of the European Court of Justice on the transfer of PNR to the United States of America" not to stop the data sharing (which I can call it without the content industries shouting PIRATES this time)but to "put a legally sound framework in place for the transfer of PNR data to the United States."

What they were doing was illegal but that is no reason to stop the illegal behaviour. No. One of the first laws of politics - when you get found badly wanting don't apologise and stop what you were doing, just look for a legally sound framework to excuse it.

Update: EDRI-gram reports that Peter Hustinx, the European Data Protection Supervisor believes the ECJ judgement has created a convenient loophole for the Commission and the Council to continue with the PNR transfers whilst cutting him and the EU parliament, which challenged the activity, out of the loop: "the judgment seems to have created a loophole in the protection of European citizens whereby their data are used for law enforcement purposes." The EU Parliament President's letter to the President of the Commission asking that they be categorically kept in the loop seems to have been ignored.

Biotech Round Table discussion

There was an EU Biotech Round Table discussion in Helsinki yesterday.

Royal Society trial on open access

The Royal Society have launched a trial of new open access journal service,

"The Royal Society today (21 June 2006) launched a trial of an open access' journal service, which will allow people to read new scientific papers free of charge immediately after they are published on the web. The new service offers authors the opportunity to pay a fee to have their paper made freely available on the web immediately if it is accepted for publication by any Royal Society journal. The first paper to be published under the new service appears on the Royal Society's website today."

Thanks to Peter Suber for the link. Peter in another post makes a really important point about the importance of open access for the general public. In addressing a question from a reader about the proposed Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006, he says:

"most people won’t find the open literature that interesting, or will find it difficult to comprehend. The main beneficiaries of the bill are researchers, and the public benefits secondarily since the bill helps to maximize the performance of public money in the support of research. That said, we should not discount the range and breadth of public interests or the public capacity to use even arcane technical reports and papers...."

Whereas I often lament the open access or digital rights communities' lack of connection with the general public, and the public's long standing lack of interest in these issues, the success of the Open University is itself a testiment to the capacity of the general public to engage with complex ideas. Give Jo Public the facility to engage and she'll dazzle us all.

A Matter of Principle: Copy privileges

Eric Flint and Jim Baen have decided to write a series of columns, "Salvos Against Big Brother", on electronic publishing, opening with the stupidity of DRM.

"We're calling the column "Salvos Against Big Brother" because that captures the key aspect of the problem, so far as Jim Baen and I are concerned. Both the publisher of this magazine and its editor believe that so-called Digital Rights Management (DRM)—by which we mean the whole panoply of ever more restrictive laws concerning digital media, including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)—are the following:

First, they represent a growing encroachment on the personal liberties of the American public, as well as those of citizens in other countries in the world;

Second, they add further momentum to what is already a dangerous tendency of governments and the large, powerful corporations which exert undue influence on them to arrogate to themselves the right to make decisions which properly belong to the public;

Third, they tend inevitably to constrict social, economic, technical and scientific progress;

And, fourth, they represent an exercise in mindless stupidity that would shame any self-respecting dinosaur."

It's wonderfully done. Highly recommended. As are the Macaulay speeches on copyright he recommends, from 1841/42. Thanks to Magnus Therning on the ORG list for the link.

Update: Fritz Attaway of the MPAA and Wendy Seltzer of the Brooklyn Law School had an email debate for the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Cory thinks Seltzer makes mincemeat of Attaway's arguments but actually to someone who doesn't already understand the issues Attaway more than comfortably holds his own. To a reader like Cory, of course, the sleight of hand in the rhetoric is clear but that is absolutely not the case with the vast majority of people who have no interest in the debate about DRM. If those extolling the perils of drm are to have any genuine impact, then the argument needs to be couched in a way that interests, appeals to and convinces ordinary people, not just those who already understand the problem. The one point at which Seltzer does score on the ordinary mortal scale is with her conclusion, once Attaway signs off with the oft repeated admission that drm is no good against commercial pirates but that it keeps "honest people honest." She says at that point "We're both talking about balance, but our equilibrium points are very different. You seem content if we can pay in lots of different ways to see the same movies on a constrained set of devices. I see balance in an ecosystem of big and small media and independent innovation of technologies around them. I want to see what iPod for movies and TiVo for radio look like, and not just from companies who can strike deals with the major movie studios and record labels before they start.

DMCA-backed DRM lets the majors dictate the terms, well beyond price, on which we can use and interact with media. It makes copyright's limited monopoly into a technology regulation, a gate on hardware and software development through which only "approved" devices can pass. More sophisticated DRM will not improve that problem, just make the approvals more onerous and the range of consumer electronics smaller."

Final note for die hard anti drm folks - I'm not criticising Wendy. I agree wholeheartedly with every point she makes in this short debate. But I doubt she'll have succeeded in converting anyone who doesn't already recognise the problems with drm, especially readers of the WSJ who are attuned to Attaway's 'property protection is good' message.

14 year old girl sues MySpace over sexual assault

From Findlaw:

"A 14-year-old girl who says she was sexually assaulted by another user of sued the social networking Web site Monday, claiming it does not take sufficient steps to protect underage members.

The girl says a 19-year-old man lied in his profile about being a senior on a football team to gain her trust and phone number."

It's difficult to see how MySpace can be held responsible for this girl's terrible ordeal but it is yet another demonstration of how important it is for kids to be streetwise about the Net, just as we expect them to be streetwise about the real world. It's natural for the family to want to blame someone and no doubt the tabloid press will be right behind them; but would they have sued a nightclub if she had met this 19-year old at a dance?

For parents who are concerned about their children's use of the Net and less than confident about how to advise them about it, there are numerous excellent guides, not least Parry Aftab's The Parents Guide to Protecting Your Kids in Cyberspace. Aftab's simple message is that anyone lacking confidence with the technology should rest assured that the sound advice they pass onto their children about life in general applies just as well to cyberspace.

Update: Anita Ramasastry thinks the lawsuit against MySpace is unlikely to succeed.
And the NYT's lesson for parents on the MySpace madness: v"perhaps this is a good time to take a deep breath and recall that the original title of the 1936 film "Reefer Madness" was "Tell Your Children."

It's important here because somewhere lurking beneath even that misguided and hilariously inaccurate bit of popular hysteria, which suggested that smoking a marijuana cigarette leads to death, suicide and other mayhem, was, at the very least, the notion that parents shoulder much of the burden in teaching young ones to say "no."

Seventy years later, we are in the throes of "MySpace Madness." But if you really think MySpace is hazardous to your child's health, there should be an implicit title here, too: "Tell Your Children." "

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Correcting False Positives: Redress and the Watch List Conundrum

Paul Rosenzweig and Jeff Jonas have an excellent paper, Correcting False Positives: Redress and the Watch List Conundrum at the Heritage Foundation on the problems associated with getting errors corrected on watch lists associated with programs like Secure Flight.

"The greatest difficulties of all in developing a watch list system may lie in the construction of such a redress process. It must be effective in clear­ing those wrongly matched or wrongly listed. But at the same time, it must have protections against being spoofed, lest terrorists go through the clear­ing process to get “clean” before committing wrongful acts.

But equally problematic, the process will likely not be able to meet traditional standards of com­plete transparency in an adversarial context. For often disclosure of the information, its source, and the algorithms that lie behind the watch-list­ing system will undermine its utility for identify­ing suspicious individuals. Yet, the failure to disclose this information will deprive an affected individual of a full and fair opportunity to contest a misidentification.

What will be necessary are the concepts of cali­brated and substituted transparency, where alter­nate mechanisms of dispute resolution are used. Those are fairly rare in American legal structures and will require careful thought. By and large, these mechanisms are policy and process related and are external to the technologies themselves. But they must be developed at the same time as the technology, for the absence of an answer to the redress question may doom even the most compel­ling watch list system."

They go on to describe the components of an idealised redress process.

The Role of ISPs in the Investigation of Cybercrime

Ian Kerr and Daphne Gilbert have an excellent paper,The Role of ISPs in the Investigation of Cybercrime, available at ssrn. They argue that the moves to hardwire ISPs into the law enforcement apparatus drastically alters the relationship between these companies and their customers; and that safeguards must therefore be built into this process of turning commercial organisations into agents of the state, which, whilst faciltating law enforcement, will also protect personal privacy.

It is a feature of modern network technologies that they facilitate the kind of communications between criminals that law enforcement authorities didn't have to deal with previously. It is therefore encumbent upon society to find ways and to develop processes which will help those authorities to combat crimes facilitated by the use of these new technologies.

It is also a feature of the technologies that they facilitate the kind of mass surveillance (or at least mass data gathering) that was not previously possible. So again, just as Kerr and Gilbert argue, we are faced with challenges in building safeguards into the processes that protect the core of those aspects of personal privacy that are fundamental both to maintaining personal dignity and a healthy society.

To the degree that these developments make us think hard as a society about how we are going to build and regulate these technologies that can only be positive. My concern is that we are mostly too busy and distracted to think about it. That's another reason why I've been writing my book.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sousveillance for the Immigration and Nationality Directorate

William Heath has been wondering about the possibilities of sousveillance for throwing a light on the lives of folks seeking legal migrant status in the UK and the work of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate.

"Met two interesting charities last week at a session organised by The Funding Network (cheers Tim).

The first was PhotoVoice which trains and equips some of the world's the most disadvantaged in photography. When street children or HIV/Aids sufferers are themselves the photojournalists they acquire a voice, convey personality and advocacy becomes stronger. It seems to work, just as Koo Stark once turned the tables by turning her camera on the paparazzi.

The other that struck me was Bail for Immigration Detainees which goes into one of the darkest recesses of UK taxpayer-funded public services and tries to get immigration or asylum detainees out on bail. Their descriptions of some of what is done in our name are pretty horrifying.

The obvious thought is to plug them in to each other so UK immigration detainees can photograph their condition so we're more aware of their suffering, and question whether its necessary. But no - not only are no cameras allowed in, but even diaries kept by detainees are confiscated. So the IND is switched on to the power of sousveillance, but only to the extent it tries to stamp it out. But, as Menwith Hill protester Lyndis Percy put it "you can't suppress the human spirit."

Wouldn't it be better if...we delivered public services in such as way that honest and transparent reporting of what it's really like at the receiving end was just a normal and constructive feature of life. Pictures, reports, diaries and accounts of life on the receiving end would reinfirce our pride in what is done in our name and on our behalves with our tax monies, and occasionally pointing to where things could be a bit better. Public servants, especially those entrusted with looking after the vulnerable or people rightly or wrongly deprived of their liberty, would be aware at all times that how they treat the public is a legitimate matter for public interest; mindful of this they would always act accordingly. "

What Price for a Sullied Reputation?

Richard S. makes some telling points about the recent CRB records errors at IdealGovernment.

"Increasingly, government officials and agencies can impose severe penalties, bypassing the normal legal process. This is portrayed as "streamlining," "modernising," "reducing costs" etc. However, there seems to be very little concern about people who are wrongly accused or punished in this way. The traditional legal process has evolved checks & balances, safeguards & appeal processes. Aspects of the legal process are unsatisfactory, but it's surprising that a government composed largely of lawyers should seek to bypass the legal process rather than improve it.

People wrongly caught by these extra-judicial penalties currently get very little sympathy or compensation from our over-powerful state. This failure of government to acknowledge or to take responsibility for errors bodes very badly for the introduction ID cards...

we have a government IT system which relies on gossip, confuses people who have similar names, and wrecks people's lives: Innocent people whose reputations are sullied by this process get very little redress.

Doesn't sound Ideal.

Compared with previous processes and precautions, what has the CRB achieved?

The Wibbis:
1. Where at all possible, the traditional legal process should be followed.
2. The traditional legal process should be improved rather than bypassed.
3. Justice should be provided by the state; not contracted-out to commercial organizations.
4. People must have an opportunity to correct glaring errors.
5. Justice & appeals should be speedy.
6. Where the state causes harm, it must take responsibility, put matters right and compensate for loss."

Open Letter to the Gowers Review

The latest edition of the excellent Script-Ed is available and has copy of the open letter by an elite group of UK IP academic experts sent to the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property

"Dear Mr Gowers,

We agree that intellectual property is crucial to the success of knowledge-based industries and that these industries are increasingly important for the UK’s economic competitiveness in the global economy.

We also agree that the intellectual property framework must balance innovation and competition. We would however stress that the public interest is a vital component in this equation.

We believe that the intellectual property system should be the subject of continuous review designed to ensure that it meets its stated ends. In this, priorities for policy development should be based upon independent multi-disciplinary evidence which takes cognisance of the economic, societal and individual values inherent in the system. We are not convinced that it will be possible for the current Review to formulate policy priorities nor gather the evidence necessary for incremental changes to the system for a number of reasons:

  • The time period . It is not possible to gather, consider and submit fully reasoned evidence within the timeframe of 23 February 2006 to 21 April 2006.
  • The scope of the review . IP is not only of critical value to the economy but also has impacts on other fields including health, education and cultural diversity. We question whether these can be properly investigated within the scope of the current Review.
  • Expertise . We question whether it is possible for the Gowers Review Team to acquire the expertise necessary within the review period to appreciate the potential wider impact their decisions and changes may have on the system as a whole within its domestic, European and global context.
  • Transparency . We welcome the open call for submissions to the Gowers Review. However we are concerned that there may be a lack of transparency. For example, It is not at clear as to why certain people have been invited to join the network of ‘Critical Friends’ and what role they are to play in this process.

Given the crucial nature of intellectual property to the knowledge based economy we believe that on-going reviews of the system should be conducted by an independent publicly funded body charged with commissioning independent research on the basis of which policy priorities can be formulated and incremental changes investigated."

Well said.

FIFA to fans: take those trousers off, they've got the wrong sponsor

Surely this cannot be true? The Guardian is reporting that Dutch supporters were made to remove their trousers before being allowed into the game against the Ivory Coast on Friday. The reason? The offending trousers bore the name of a Dutch beer, Bavaria, which is not an official sponsor of the World Cup. Apparently some England fans on Thursday were also forced to remove Nike clothing before being allowed into the England v Trinidad & Tobago match.

"There were also allegations yesterday that England supporters at last Thursday's Trinidad and Tobago match were forced to hand over Nike clothing at the entrance of the stadium in Nuremberg, because Adidas - the German sportswear giant and Nike's deadly rival - is the official World Cup sponsor. Last night, however, Fifa denied that any Nike clothing had been confiscated.

"There are no special rules regarding clothing at the World Cup. Visitors can wear their normal clothing or replica shirts with or without advertising, irrespective of the manufacturer or sponsor's logo," a Fifa spokesman said. This was true of "individuals" but not of groups, the spokesman continued."

I honestly wonder sometimes if we haven't totally surpassed Huxley's distopian Brave New World.
Adam Thierer of the Progress & Freedom Foundation was in Brussels last week attending a Summit on the Future of Free Expression / Child Protection. He offers his thoughts on the summit at the P&FF website.

"This week I traveled to Brussels and, along with my friends at the Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA), co-hosted an interesting roundtable discussion entitled "Mission Impossible: Protecting Children and Free Expression in Our New, Digital Content World." The focus of the day's discussion was the same as previous ICRA roundtables that I have participated in and written about here before: What steps can we take to shield children from potentially objectionable media content without repressing freedom of speech / expression...

After a short introduction from ICRA's Stephen Balkam, we began the event by hearing from Europe's most important public official dealing with these matters: EU Commissioner Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Information Society and Media...

Reding went on to outline what would end up being the focus of much of the day's discussion: Europe's various models of "co-regulation."...

during Q&A, Ms. Reding was inundated with questions about how it will all work in practice...

ICRA's Stephen Balkam, who had his video i-Pod sitting in front of him, showed Commissioner Reding a clip from ABC's "Desperate Housewives" that he had downloaded from the Internet for a few dollars. But he pointed out that he could also watch the show over broadcast television or on DVD. So, he asked, will "Desperate Housewives" be regulated the same way or differently on all 3 platforms? Commissioner Reding didn't really provide Stephen and the audience with a clear answer, and when challenged with similar questions from other participants it became obvious to me that the devil will be in the (regulatory) details...

beyond convergence and the "scale-scope-volume" problem, regulators now face a world in which humans create almost as much media as they consume... parents feel that the more serious problem they face today is not what children can watch or download but instead what they can upload about themselves or others...

concerns and issues regarding objectionable media content and parental controls are remarkably similar on both sides of the Atlantic. As Commissioner Reding noted, "There may well be disagreements between America and Europe about where exactly to draw the line... however, if you take a broader world view, the similarities of approach in democratic countries are obviously much greater than the differences." Indeed, that appears to be the case. But drawing that line will remain a difficult, contentious task."

Restricting all but the predators

From Dark Reading: "Good intentions that fall woefully short: That's the quickest summation of a proposed U.K. law intended to get pedophiles offline."