Saturday, November 10, 2007

Benkler interview

Kottke has an excellent interview with Yochai Benkler.

"JT: I first learned about your book over at the Crooked Timber blog—and thought the discussion of your book there was of exceptionally high quality. Moreover, your book has been far more often mentioned than reviewed in the press. Which poses a kind of serial question: When traditional journalists (I'm thinking specifically of Richard Schickel's rant in the L.A. Times this summer) bemoan the rise of blog culture, do they know what they're talking about? Have they looked? From your side: How did the Crooked Timber—or other blog receptions—compare to traditional media receptions?

YB: I thought the discussion on Crooked Timber was in fact excellent, as good a discussion as you would get in a thoughtful seminar, whether academic or whenever you get a collection of thoughtful people in a book club. There should be nothing surprising about this, any more than there should be anything surprising about there being blogs that are utter nonsense.

The critical shift represented by the networked information economy is that on the order of a billion people on the planet have the physical capacity to produce and communicate information, knowledge, and culture. This means, in the case of writing, millions or tens of millions of people, rather than a few thousand, get to write in ways that are publicly visible. Of necessity, there will be a wide range.

The probability that any newspaper, however well-heeled, will be able to put together the kind of legal analytic brainpower that my friend Jack Balkin has put together on his blog, Balkinization, is zero. They can't afford it. On the other hand, even the Weekly World News is tame and mainstream by comparison to the quirkiness or plain stupidity some people can exhibit. The range is simply larger. That's what it means to have a truly diverse public sphere.

If you want to find evidence of nonsense, as of course it is important to people whose sense of self-worth depends on the special role traditional mass media play in the public sphere, you will easily find it. If you want to find the opposite, that too is simple. What's left is to wait and see over time whether one overwhelms the other. As I wrote in the book, I do not think we are intellectual lemmings. I don't think we jump over the abyss of drivel, but rather that in this environment of plenty we learn to develop our own sense of which is which, and where to find what. Perfect information about all the good things, we won't have. But we don't have it now either. Instead we have new patterns of linking, filtering, recommendation, that allow us to do reasonably well in navigating a much more diverse and interesting information environment than mass media was able to deliver...

JT: The Wealth of Networks was described, I believe it was by Time magazine, as "utopian." I didn't see it that way, but rather as a book that was as full of sense as it was of hope. But it was a contingent hope: one based on things like 'Net neutrality, gift economies, open access to information, and so on. Can you leave us with your most hard-headed vision of the hope contained in—and possibly sustained by—The Wealth of Networks?

YB: I agree that The Wealth of Networks is not utopian. I think realistically we can see a large improvement in the number of people who can effectively participate in the production of information, knowledge, and culture. I think more people are creating media; more people have access to a community or site where they can speak their minds. More does not mean everyone. Disparities in access and skill continue. But there are many more, and more diversely motivated and organized voices and creative talents participating than was feasible ten years ago, much less 30 years ago.

I think there are certain well-defined threats to this model. If we end up with a proprietary communications platform, such as the one that the FCC's spectrum and broadband policies are aiming to achieve; and on that platform we will have proprietary, closed platforms like the iPhone, then much of the promise of the networked environment will be lost.

When the FCC and Congress had an opportunity to make parts of the 700MHz band an open spectrum, to which any device manufacturer could have built devices that would have created user-owned networks, on the model of WiFi but more powerful, they failed in imagination and wisdom. When they were presented by Google with a much thinner, but at least well-reasoned and positive, alternative, to make the 700MHz auction at least require purchasers to resell to anyone who wanted wholesale carriage, so that at least there could be competition, they balked at that too.

We now also see the rising tide of fear leading to a resurgence of "trusted systems"—systems that assume that the owners of computers are either incompetent or malevolent, so the machine has to be "trusted" against its owner. This too can undermine the openness, innovation, and expressive freedom of the networked environment. The threats are many. Some of them come from intentional efforts to hobble the 'Net in order to preserve incumbent business models. The interventions of the telecomms and the strong copyright lobbies fall into these categories. Some come from simple lack of appreciation for the central role that open, radically decentralized platforms are playing, and it is not necessarily a regulatory mistake as a business mistake.

I am still optimistic. It does seem that people have been opting for open systems when they have been available, and that has provided a strong market push against the efforts to close down the 'Net. Social practices, more prominently the widespread adoption of participation in peer production, social sites, and DIY media, are the strongest source of pushback. As people practice these freedoms, one hopes that they will continue to support them, politically, but most powerfully perhaps, with their buying power and the power to divert their attention to open platforms rather than closed. This, the fact that decentralized action innovates more quickly, and that people seem to crave the freedom and creativity that it gives them, is the most important force working in favor of our capturing and extending the value of an open network."

Read the whole thing, though. It's worth the effort, even if you have to go through it a few times to get it. I loved the line, "The probability that any newspaper, however well-heeled, will be able to put together the kind of legal analytic brainpower that my friend Jack Balkin has put together on his blog, Balkinization, is zero." And hope to repeat/plagiarise/paraphrase it relentlessly.

Waterboarding through the ages

Marty Lederman has gathered a series of links on the history of waterboarding.

"Who could have imagined this history lesson would ever again be necessary? Or that photographs of the Vice President and Attorney General of the United States will one day appear in such histories?


Evan Wallach

Malcolm Nance


And, thanks to the Harvard Anti-Torture Coalition, here are further accounts of waterboarding during Brazil's military dictatorship, and upon a slave in antebellum Georgia."

Apparently a DOJ lawyer, Daniel Levin, was so concerned about the administration's approach to waterboarding torture in 2004 that he asked to be subjected to it himself. After the experience, not surprisingly he concluded it was torture. Then Alberto Gonzales was made attorney general and didn't like this view, leaned on him to write a memo saying it wasn't torture, then fired him. Lederman says:

"it's hard to resist the simple conclusion that Gonzales and others were engaged, not only in an effort to completely distort the proper functioning of OLC (see generally Jack Goldsmith's book), but also in a conspiracy to violate the Torture Act. When responsible, thoughtful lawyers -- loyal conservative, Republican lawyers, mind you --- told them that what they had approved was unlawful, they insisted that the lawyers change their advice, and then got rid of the lawyers and hired another willing to provide alternative advice that no one could have sincerely believed (and then rewarded the lawyer who was willing to sign his name to that advice).

I'm trying to avoid hyperbole, honest. But how is this not a huge scandal?"

New AG "wrong on torture" but still voted in

Glenn Greenwald is very eloquent on the confirmation by the US Senate of Michael Mukasey as the new US attorney general.

"four Senate Democrats running for President missed the vote, and all four had announced they oppose Mukasey's confirmation. Thus, at least 44 Senators claimed to oppose Mukasey's confirmation -- more than enough to prevent it via filibuster. So why didn't they filibuster, the way Senate Republicans have on virtually every measure this year which they wanted to defeat?

Numerous Senate Democrats delivered dramatic speeches from the floor as to why Mukasey's confirmation would be so devastating to the country. The Washington Post said the "vote came after more than four hours of impassioned floor debate."

"Torture should not be what America stands for . . . I do not vote to allow torture," said Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy. Russ Feingold said: "we need an attorney general who will tell the president that he cannot ignore the laws passed by Congress. And on that fundamental qualification for this office Judge Mukasey falls short." Feingold added: "If Judge Mukasey won't say the simple truth -- that this barbaric practice is torture -- how can we count on him to stand up to the White House on other issues?"

Wow -- it sounds as though there was really a lot at stake in this vote. So why would 44 Democratic Senators make a flamboyant showing of opposing confirmation without actually doing what they could to prevent it? Is it that a filibuster was not possible because a large number of these Democratic Senators were willing to symbolically oppose confirmation so they could say they did -- by casting meaningless votes in opposition knowing that confirmation was guaranteed -- but were unwilling to demonstrate the sincerity of their claimed beliefs by acting on them?


[The most amazing quote was from chief Mukasey supporter Chuck Schumer, who, before voting for him, said that Mukasey is "wrong on torture -- dead wrong." Marvel at that phrase: "wrong on torture." Six years ago, there wasn't even any such thing as being "wrong on torture," because "torture" wasn't something we debated. It would have been incoherent to have heard: "Well, he's dead wrong on torture, but . . . " Now, "torture" is not only something we openly debate, but it's something we do. And the fact that someone is on the wrong side of the "torture debate" doesn't prevent them from becoming the Attorney General of the United States. "

Safeguarding the legacy of a crook

From the LA Times,

"When it comes to protecting the memory of his great-uncle, Jeffrey Scalf sees himself as a lone sentinel.

Admittedly, it's not easy to defend the name of John H. Dillinger, a man once referred to as Public Enemy No. 1.

"For good or ill, this is my family's legacy and no one is going to take that away from me," says Scalf, 50, who readily admits his childhood fascination with the infamous outlaw has become a crusade.

He says he has been ripped off by the author and publisher of a Dillinger biography, who refused to pay him licensing fees. He feels burned by restaurateurs who use the 1930s bank robber's name to hawk burgers and beer, and cheated by a California video-game company that used Dillinger's digital likeness in a game about gangsters.

And don't even get Scalf started on civic leaders and festival organizers who stage public events using the notorious thief's name and exploits -- but won't pay him to use the name. It's highway robbery, he says."

So descendants of criminals should be allowed to profit from their ancestors' notoriety. I'd have thought that this would be a chance for the EFF to point the Republican right wingers at some IP sillyness and set them off. Thanks to Justine Levine at Against Monopoly for the link.

Economics Nobel prize winner says weak IP better for the Web

One of this year's winners of the Nobel prize for economics, Eric Maskin, wrote a paper a few years ago suggesting the conventional wisdom, that the only way for IP owners to protect themselves from the web was through tougher IP laws, was probably wrong. Maskin and James Besson (thanks to Besson for the pointer) developed an economic model which suggested that since the Web operated like a highly interative and dynamic community, "individual publishers and society more generally may benefit from weak intellectual property enforcement in such an environment."

They also suggest that the idea that tighter IP always increases incentives for innovation is based on a limited economic model which just does not apply to dynamic environments. The conventional model however is based on the single creative genius, the romantic author who produces works out of nothing. Yet all creativity and innovation relies on other people's outputs i.e. it is a collective enterprise and even geniuses who make amazing creative leaps, as Newton said, see farther only through standing on the shoulders of giants.

Maskin and Besson conclude by saying that "publishers will do best by recognising and encouraging the complementary contributions of others."

The paper is well worth a read - very accessible and the substantive part is only a little over 6 pages long. (They have a nice accessible version of the OLGA guitar chords site story too).

Is Real ID plan on its deathbed?

Meanwhile on the US 'Real ID' card front, CNet News reported last week that:

"The U.S. government's controversial plan to outfit all Americans with uniform electronic identification cards--officially known as Real ID--may be on its deathbed, opponents of the program charged this week.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has long said that starting as soon as May 2008, and definitely after May 2013, it will deny state citizens the right to board planes or enter federal buildings unless they show Real ID-compliant documents.

But on a recent conference call with state officials from across the country, Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Richard Barth gave the impression that the agency doesn't plan to punish states that have rejected the rules, according to Timothy Sparapani, senior legislative counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union, and Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. Barth also reportedly said Homeland Security may push back the deadline until 2015.

"To me, this signals the real end of the Real ID Act because it prevents the government from having any leverage over the states," Sparapani said in a conference call his group organized with reporters Thursday afternoon.

Homeland Security, for its part, vehemently denied any softening of its policy."

ID Card Scheme Cost Report

In accordance with section 37 of the ID card act, the ID and passport office presented a report to parliament on the costs of the scheme on the same day as the IPCC report into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes was published.

It's not very enlightening on costs but makes the same tired old false claims about ID cards preventing identity theft, curing immigration and terrorism and all the while simultaneously delivering better government services into the bargin. What a magic system! In various sections there is a get-out clause referring to the uncertainties in estimating costs for such a scheme, which the government will be able to refer back to when the thing goes massively over budget. On page 12 for example:

"There is a significant probability that the estimates will change in the light of further experience."

Groklaw interview Becky Hogge

Groklaw has a good interview with Becky Hogge of the Open Rights Group on the subject of the BBC and DRM.

"The BBC is something which the British public are very proud of and very proud to support. And I think that's the basis from where everything that the Open Rights Group does. I mean, the BBC has supported in the past the spread of new technology around the UK. Arguably, the reason the UK has such a vibrant games market, games industry here in the UK is because many of the people now programming games were brought up using the BBC Micros systems they distributed back when I was growing up.

And what we want to find here is a solution for the BBC to continue innovating, both in content-making and in the way that it uses technology. And DRM is just a black hole that the BBC is going to get lost in.

If you listen to some of the Future Media and Technology team -- I'm referring again to this podcast that Ashley Highfield did for BBC Backstage -- he talks about a future technology where content can have "wrappers" which know where you're watching content, who's watching it, you know? In his sense, he wants content to behave intelligently using technology. But without buy-in from the entire value chain of video on the Internet, video online, that is just going to be another more complex and more invasive DRM system. We want the BBC to start stepping away from DRM and to look at some of the rights models that are going to allow it to release the content that the license fee payer funds for the license fee payer, without being crippled by DRM."

The 10 principles of economics explained

I liked this:

An immutable audit log

From Jeff Jonas:

"An immutable audit log is a tamper-resistant recording of how a system has been used – everything from when data arrives, changes, departs, to how users interacted with the system. Each event is recorded in an indelible manner - even the database administrator with the highest level of system privileges cannot alter the past … kinda like the paper tape on an adding machine tape, etched in stone … only more high-tech.

I think (and hope) tamper-resistant audits will become common place in settings ranging from health care patient records to government surveillance systems. The primary value being twofold:

a) Accountability. Enable policy folks charged with oversight and accountability to validate that a computer system has been used within policy and law: and,

b) Deterrence. The "chilling effect" caused by the knowledge that a tamper resistant audit log is in place – deterring a corrupt person or two from bad behavior.

Now what? What if no one wants to pay for one? Will tamper resistant audit logs need to be built-in to commercial off-the-shelf systems to reach the market? If so, will organizations actually pay for the additional disk space and processing requirements to turn such a log on? Or, will they simply turn the feature off?

This is important technology and one that really needs to see the light of day, especially in conjunction with non-transparent government systems."


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Lessig on the Fox v presidential candidates copyright disputes

Larry Lessig has something to say about Fox's copyright threats directed at selected (not Giuliani) Republican presidential candidates.

"When in April we launched the campaign to get the candidates and political parties to require that any network televising a presidential debate do so freely, a friend wrote, "Oh come on. Do you really think a network is going to threaten a presidential candidate over a copyright claim?" I did, though I confess I thought it was more likely a network would be the cat's paw for another candidate. The Fox network has now proven me wrong.

As reported at TPM, some in the coalition who originally made the call on the RNC and DNC to insist upon free debates are now pushing FOX to stop its copyright threats on McCain and others. Again, I had wished Senator Clinton (AWOL on this issue) would have made the call. She remains, sadly, AWOL."

Not a surprise since earlier in the year Lessig and a bunch of like-minded others called on the chairs of both main parties not to let copyright stifle public debate in the election hustings.

Larry's reaction when he first heard of Fox threats against Senator McCain is worth reading and I hope he doesn't mind me posting it here in full:

"As reported over the weekend, Fox has told John McCain to "cease and desist use of a clip from the last debate that has the Fox logo on it." Here's the clip:

McCain, to his credit, has become a freedom fighter. His campaign has refused to comply with the Fox demand But as I'm sure Fox's lawyers are telling Fox management, the romance surrounding "fair use" notwithstanding, Fox has a pretty good argument. There's no clear authority supporting the idea that taking just a bit of a television clip is "fair use"; the use here is certainly not commenting upon Fox. Senator McCain's "right" (in scare quotes because, as the extremists will lecture, fair use is a defense, not a right) to use the clip as he has is arguable at best. Under the law as it has been articulated by the highest courts, there's no guarantee the Senator's campaign would prevail.

Which is precisely why the demand we made in April was not that the RNC and DNC fund a bunch of fair use lawyers to help us litigate the "rights" of candidates and citizens to use and transform presidential debates. It was that candidates and the parties demand that any network granted the privilege of broadcasting a presidential debate do so freely -- meaning free not in the sense of free beer (they do that already), but free in the sense of free speech: free so that others can take and build upon the speech uttered in these events, freely.

Some networks whined loudly at the time. "It cost us millions," I was told by one network executive "to run a presidential debate. We need this control to make back our costs." Maybe, though I doubt Fox is launching its legal campaign against McCain to increase its revenues.

But the more fundamental point is this: As the networks who have promised to (effectively) deliver free presidential debates have shown (CNN, NBC, ABC), even when free, it is still worth it enough to at least some. And in a world with YouTubes and p2p technologies, some networks are plainly enough. If Fox demands control, presidential debates don't need Fox.

It is time that the presidential candidates from both parties stand with Senator McCain and defend his right to use this clip to advance his presidential campaign. Not because it is "fair use" (whether or not it is), but because presidential debates are precisely the sort of things that ought to be free of the insanely complex regulation of speech we call copyright law.

Indeed, as the target of the attack, and as one who has been totally AWOL on this issue from the start, it would be most appropriate if this demand were to begin with Senator Clinton. Let her defend her colleague's right to criticize her, by demanding that her party at least condition any presidential debate upon the freedom of candidates and citizens to speak."

Prince attempts to crack down on his own fan sites

Prince has decided to send his lawyers after the people who run his unauthorized non-commercial fansites.

"In an extraordinary, but not unfamiliar move, the rock legend Prince is using an army of lawyers to launch attacks on his own fans. Several of the largest web communities dedicated to the artist have received notices to cease and desist all use of photographs, images, lyrics, album covers and anything linked to Prince's likeness. It is our belief that these threats are not made in an attempt to enforce valid copyright as Prince alleges in his threats, rather we believe they are attempts to stifle all critical commentary about Prince. We strongly believe that such actions are in violation of the freedom of speech and should not be allowed. Prince claims that fansites are not allowed to present any artwork with Prince's likeness, to the extreme that he has demanded removal of fan's own photographs of their Prince inspired tattoos and their vehicles displaying Prince inspired license plates. Prince's representatives have requested that the fansites provide them with "substantive details of the means by which you [the fansites] propose to compensate our clients [Paisley Park Enterprises, NPG Records and Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG)] for damages..."

The owners of the three largest fansites supporting Prince:, and supporting Prince have come together to fight back to what amounts to an injustice to the fansites and the very fans who have supported Prince's career, many since the very beginning nearly thirty years ago."

You can see the cease and desist letters here. The fans are looking for a lawyer to represent them pro bono.

Open publishing - The opposite of open is DRM

Thanks to Kevin Marks via ORG for the reminder of Suw Charman's post earlier in the year on Open publishing - The opposite of open is DRM

"For many publishers, the thought of publishing books under a Creative Commons licence is anathema, but yet they don't want to pass up on the opportunity to distribute their material digitally online. Instead of experimenting with open publishing, they try to find a middle way and frequently they think that middle way is to use DRM to lock up their ebooks and audiobooks.

As you can tell from my tone, I'm none too keen on DRM. It's something I've done a lot of work on with the Open Rights Group, where I was until recently Executive Director. Rather than rehash all the arguments here as to why I believe DRM is bad, I'm going to give you a nice list of links:

The problem with DRM is that it's a fundamentally flawed technology which erodes our rights and favours contract law over copyright law. It prevents users exercising their fair dealing rights (called fair use in the US), restricts access to those with disabilities, and does nothing to benefit the consumer."

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Proposed German telecoms data retention law and freedom of the the press

Also via EDRI-gram, Spielel Online International reports concerns that a proposed new German telecoms data retention law would underine the freedom of the press.

"It may soon no longer be a good idea to tell a journalist something confidential over the phone in Germany. It would also perhaps be prudent to avoid sending e-mails, faxes or text messages. In the future, sources might be better off furtively intercepting reporters on their way home, writing letters, or sending smoke signals.

As of Jan. 1, 2008, this kind of cautious behavior may be advisable -- that is if the German parliament, the Bundestag, approves a bill next week that would effectively remove all protection of journalists' sources when it comes to telecom and Internet communications...

At issue here is a fairly unwieldy piece of draft legislation, namely an amendment to Germany's law on telecommunications surveillance. The government proposal submitted by Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries calls for telecom providers to retain all communications data from their customers, all landline and mobile calls, faxes, text messages and e-mails. This would mean that all electronic communications in Germany would be recorded, whether the parties concerned are under investigation or not.

Germany's surveillance mania concerns everyone in the country, but when it comes to journalists it concerns the way they do their job. Data protection advocates call mandatory data retention an excessive and constitutionally dubious measure. Critics say that it would violate the principle of communications secrecy and the right to privacy in the information age."

The article is a decent general introduction to data retention in the EU, how the directive was passed last year with a typical piece of political game-playing to avoid procedures that would have blocked it, and the implications at member state level. It mentions that Ireland is challenging the directive through the European courts though fails to mention that that is because the Irish govenrment wants longer data retention than that mandated by the directive. And the German justice minister thinks she's being badly mistreated in the press because it's not her fault that Germany has to implement an EU directive... do the words 'laundering' and 'policy' come to mind, not necessarily in that order? (In fairness the Germans, as I recall, did make a superficial show of opposing the directive but they could easily have killed it if they really wanted to. The fact that they didn't actually do so speaks volumes)

Security in online social networks

Under Edri-gram's recommended reading comes the European Network and Information Security Agency's position paper number 1, "Security Issues and Recommendations for Online Social Networks"

Judge forces telcos to retain data in NSA spy case

From Ars Technica:

"In a victory for the EFF, Judge Vaughn Walker ruled today that AT&T, Verizon, Cingular (now part of AT&T), Sprint, and BellSouth (also part of AT&T now) must all maintain any data or papers related to the NSA spying case that Walker is overseeing in California. The EFF had requested the ruling out of concern that documents would be destroyed as part of routine data deletion practices before the case could even progress to discovery.

The move was opposed not only by the telcos but also by the federal government, which has repeatedly pursued the claim that the case involves "state secrets" and should not proceed."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Feds Fight Ruling on Security Letters

Also via Michael Geist: Feds Fight Ruling on Security Letters

"The U.S. government on Monday appealed a ruling that the government shouldn't be able to get personal phone, e-mail and financial records without a judge's approval.

The USA Patriot Act prevents Internet service providers from telling their customers — here or abroad, citizens or not — if the government has demanded private information from them.

The government's decision to appeal the September ruling by U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to put out a release quoting the unidentified plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Identified only as the president of a small Internet service provider who has faced a gag order for more than three years, the plaintiff complained that the statutes in the act "give the government far too much power and that the secrecy surrounding the statutes is excessive.""

Geist: the Net on cable turning into the Net as cable

Michael Geist: How the Internet On Cable Became the Internet as Cable

P2P for ID theft

Also from Findlaw (via AP):

"A man charged with using online file-sharing programs such as LimeWire to commit identity theft pleaded guilty Monday in federal court.

Gregory Kopiloff, 35, pleaded guilty to mail fraud, accessing a protected computer without authorization to further fraud and aggravated identity theft.
Click here to find out more!

He acknowledged using file-sharing programs to invade the computers of victims nationwide to get access to their personal information in tax returns, credit reports, bank statements and student financial aid applications. He then used that information to open credit lines and shop online."

Second life legal disputes hit the real world

From Eric Sinrod at Findlaw: Virtual Legal Chickens Come Home To Roost In Real Courts, commentary on how Second Life disputes are increasingly finding their way into real world courtrooms.

Publishers See a Way to Track Their Content Across the Net

From the NYT: Publishers See a Way to Track Their Content Across the Net

London mayor vote uses 'fiasco' e-system

Via Glyn at ORG: London mayor vote uses 'fiasco' e-system

With missing votes and massively delayed results, the electronic count during the Breckland elections this year was hardly an unbridled success.

But just months after the election fiasco - which saw the council abandon the unreliable “e-count” in favour of a traditional manual one - it has been announced that the same system will be used in the London mayoral and assembly elections next year."

EU want data on US passengers

In a reversal of the long standing trend, from CAPPS to Secure Flight, the EU has now decided to collect personal data on US airline passengers.

"American travelers' personal data would for the first time be exported to all European Union states by airline carriers flying to Europe under a proposal to be announced this week.

The data, including names, telephone numbers, credit card information and travel itinerary, would be sent to E.U. member states so they could assess passenger risk for counterterrorism purposes, according to a draft copy obtained by The Washington Post. The European Commission proposal would allow the data to be kept for 13 years or longer if used in criminal investigations and intelligence operations. It would cover all passengers flying into and out of Europe, not just Americans."

Free/libre knowledge resources

I had the pleasure of meeting Kim Tucker at the OpenLearn conference last week. Kim has long campaigned on the concept of free/libre knowledge as the most effective way to bridge the knowledge divide. I highly recommend his essay,'Say "Libre" for Knowledge and Learning Resources', something of a manifesto calling for widespread freedom of access to information and knowledge.



In response to discussions among members of the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement about whether to describe learning resources as "free", "libre" or "open", this essay clarifies the position of the "libre" camp and outlines the rationale for referring to knowledge and learning resources as "libre" or "free" rather than "open".

We start by building on a decade of debate and experience in the world of free/libre and open source software. Substantial sections of Why "Open Source" misses the point of Free Software and other essays of opinion Richard Stallman have been copied and adapted with permission.

We generalise from free software to free knowledge, and indicate the importance of the semantics in building community and shaping the future - towards a broad vision for a libre knowledge society.


When we call a knowledge resource “libre”, or "free", we mean that it respects the users' essential freedoms: the freedom to use the work for any purpose, to study its mechanisms to be able to modify and adapt it to their own needs, to make and distribute copies in whole or in part, and to enhance or extend the work and share the results freely. Free knowledge requires use of free software to access and manipulate the resources which should be stored in free file formats. This is a matter of freedom, not price, so think of “free speech,” not “free beer.”

These freedoms are vitally important. They are essential, not just for the individual users' sake, but because they promote social solidarity—that is, sharing and cooperation. They become even more important as more and more of our culture and life activities are digitized. In a world of digital sounds, images, words, other digital resources and electronic social interactions, free software and libre knowledge resources become increasingly equated with freedom in general.

Tens of millions of people around the world now use free software and libre knowledge resources; schools in regions of India, Spain and southern Africa now teach learners to use the free GNU/Linux operating system, and share free knowledge resources such as Wikipedia for Schools and GCompris, while implicitly free knowledge policies are becoming common in prominent OER, Open Access and other educational initiatives (e.g. PLoS, WikiEducator, WikiVersity, Connexions, Le Mill, Kewl, etc.).

In the case of software, most users seldom think about the ethical reasons for which these systems and communities have been built, because today the systems and communities are more often referred to as “open", rather than "free" or "libre", and are attributed to a different philosophy in which these freedoms are hardly mentioned.

Within the open knowledge and education communities, attention tends to be more on the authors' copyright and ownership of resources than the learners' freedom to use them and to engage with the community. This detracts from the intent of most of these initiatives, and leaves them open to threats which could severely undermine the entire movement.

The primary plea of this article is for the "open" initiatives to assess their degree of alignment with the vision for libre knowledge expressed here, and to consider adjusting their terminology to match.


Education and life-long learning are about sharing and generating knowledge. The libre knowledge vision has been expressed as follows:

Knowledge for all, freedom to learn, towards collective wisdom
enabling people to empower themselves with knowledge
and to share it for community benefit

When knowledge is shared electronically, the freedom to use, modify (localise), enhance, mix and share, is essential for effective knowledge transfer. Localisation is almost always required.

If you feel some resonance with this vision, and an affinity with the associated culture of cooperation and sharing, then please read on, as it is under threat. A collaborative effort is required to ensure such a free Internet culture."

Used evoting machine sales

I liked this:

Thanks to Kommer Kleijn via the European e-voting list for the pointer.

Monday, November 05, 2007

NPfIT went ahead after Prime Minister had 10-minute briefing

Computer Weekly reported last week that the multi-billion pound NHS IT programme was approved by the then prime minsiter, Tony Blair, after a 10 minute briefing

"A former Whitehall official has revealed that he and his colleagues were given 10 minutes to make the case to the Prime Minister over what became the world’s biggest civil IT-based modernisation programme.

The disclosure was made by Sir John Pattison who was headquarters director of research and e-champion at the Department of Health. He was speaking on BBC Radio 4’s “Wiring the NHS” documentary on the £12.4bn National Programme for IT [NPfIT], to which Computer Weekly contributed...

After the 10-minute presentation to Tony Blair, Sir John Pattison was asked to produce an outline implementation plan. And he was given three months to produce a document that laid down the standards, "or such standards and specifications and governance issues" as was possible at that time."

Given the nature of the decision making processes in the Blair government, this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. It should be a concern, however, as I say in my book, that decisions about the creation and deployment of massive, society-changing, information systems infrastructures are made on the whim of a small number of people with no understanding of the technologies involved or the clear purposes (political expediency, generating headlines and dreams of going down in history excluded) for which they are being constructed.

C.P. Snow said, in 1960, "Some of the most important choices about a nation's physical health are made... by men who normally are not able to comprehend the arguments in depth." So the process is not unique to the Blair/Brown government. Nu Labour has, however, refined it to the level of a fine art, driven always by the obsession to be seen to be doing big things in reaction to today's and in order to capture tomorrow's headlines.

State AG blocks RIAA bandwagon

For the first time, it seems, a state Attorney General has stepped in front of the RIAA lawsuit bandwagon and said no, they are not entitled to the identities of students suspected of music file sharing just because they want to know them.

"In Arista v. Does 1-17, a new ex parte case to get discovery from the University of Oregon about the identities of its students, the Oregon Department of Justice has made a motion, on behalf of the University of Oregon, to quash the subpoena obtained by the RIAA.

This is the first such motion of which we are aware that has been made by the university itself, rather than by the students.

It is also the first instance of which we are aware of a State Attorney General bringing a motion to quash an RIAA subpoena.

The motion papers of the Attorney General argue that it is impossible to identify the alleged infringers from the information the RIAA has presented"