Saturday, March 07, 2009

Alleged sewer grate photographer arrested under terrorism laws

Via Cory Doctorow:


"Have a look at this news-video about Stephen Clarke, a man who was accused to taking pictures of sewer-gratings in Manchester and arrested. Though the police couldn't find any photos of sewer-gratings on his phone (and even though "what a sewer grating looks like" isn't a piece of specialized terrorist intelligence), he was held on suspicion of planning an act of terror, imprisoned for two days while the police searched his home, his phone and his computer. When they couldn't find anything suspicious, they released him, but kept his DNA on file, as the biometric of someone who had been accused of plotting a terrorist act."
Mr Clarke is familiar with the European Court of Human Rights ruling in S. and Marper v. The United Kingdom in December last year and is planning to press to have his DNA and fingerprints removed from the police databases.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Clause 52 Coroners and Justice Bill

Important prompt from the Open Rights Group:
"Refuse consent for information sharing

Posted by Jim Killock in Data Protection, Identity at March 6th, 2009

Information sharing provisions in the draft Coroners and Justice Bill include some of the most wide-ranging and potentially intrusive proposals ever laid before Parliament. In particular, clause 152 is a profound threat to privacy, liberty and the rule of law.

The new powers are designed to give ministers a fast-track procedure to share data across departmental databases, overriding data protection, human-rights and confidentiality.

We strongly object to these powers on the basis of principle and practice. On principle, they would sweep away fundamental democratic liberties. In practice, the Government has consistently failed to manage large-scale ICT projects, resulting in massive data losses and vast expense.

Just as importantly, Parliamentary scrutiny will be sidestepped by introducing information sharing orders via secondary legislation, overseen only by the toothless Information Commissioner’s Office.

Polls show the public are against the proposals, which would give Government far too much power over our personal data. But polls aren’t always important: it’s up to you, the committed, motivated few to stand up to protect the rights of the wider community.

We can make a difference and, with the bill scheduled for a third reading in the House of Commons during March, its vital we take action now. We are asking three things from you:

  1. Please write to your MP today - very simple using writetothem - about clause 152 of the Coroners and Justice Bill, stating explicitly that you refuse to consent for your personal data to be used under any information sharing order. Explain in personal terms the harm to society that these powers will cause and demand that they stand up against clause 152.
  2. Please go along to MP’s surgery and press for a face to face conversation. Many of you have the technical expertise to clearly explain the risks associated with the database state in general and data-sharing in particular, which is key to understanding why clause 152 is so dangerous.
  3. To raise awareness of clause 152, please blog about this call to action and your related correspondence.

Further materials

  1. This Privacy International Black Zone report includes extended commentary and a detailed list of data-sharing examples.
  2. This NO2ID briefing indicates both the broad concerns and gives a detailed legal analysis of the proposal.
  3. NO2ID also have an extensive archive of background material

Open Rights Group is funded by technologists who care for digital rights. Please donate."

The Government obsession with giving those clever computer things voluminous amounts of personal data in the hope that they will automatically fix complex, systemic, social, economic, regulatory and environmental problems is stupidly dangerous. I am reminded of a terrific article, Privacy in a Noise Society, from about 5 years ago by Nicklas Lundblad at the St Anna Institute in Stockholm. Abstract:
"In this paper, an economic study of different levels of expected
privacy, both individual and collective, is used to demonstrate
that we live neither in a dystopian control society nor in a utopian
privacy enhanced society, but rather in a noise society
characterized by high collective expectations of privacy and low
individual expectations of privacy. This has profound
consequences for the design of privacy law, privacy enhancing
technologies and the sociology of privacy."
As Lundblad says "...anyone but not everyone can be mapped in detail...We live in a society where it is possible to chart the lives of anyone, but not the lives of everyone." Information overload and cost effectively preclude the latter.

UK government ministers, at least of the current Nu Labour brand, seem just destined not to get it.

Latest US copyright bill seeks to end free access to health information

The latest in a long line of special interest intellectual property laws has started its trek through the Congressional approval processes.
"The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act would reverse a National Institutes of Health policy set last year that held that the public should not have to pay to see the results of medical research funded with taxpayer dollars. The bill would prevent other agencies from making similar rules regarding free public access to published studies.

The bill, still in committee, has patient advocates, scientists, librarians and others up in arms...

"I don't think there's a good thing to say about this bill. It's basically a corporate giveaway," said Jessica Litman, a copyright law professor at U-M. "The people own it, they shouldn't have to pay to see it again.""
The "Fair Copyright in Research Works Act"? Now how could anyone oppose a fair copyright in research works act? The world of IP is so depressingly Groundhog Day like, except that unlike Bill Murray's character in the film it doesn't get any better.

In defence of lever voting machines

Interesting article on lever voting machines at OpEdNews which I missed in the summer of 2008.
"I have been voting on lever machines since 1972. They may be old-fashioned, but their durability is proven by the very fact that they are still in service. I am not alone in trusting them. So does Bryan Pfaffenberger, Professor of Science and Technology at the University of Virginia, who was awarded a National Science Foundation grant to study lever machines. Pfaffenberger agrees that the reliability of lever machines, which were expressly designed in response to fraudulent counting of paper ballots, "has been proven in a century of service." He concludes that, "the lever machine deserves recognition as one of the most astonishing achievements of American technological genius."

I am on record as an advocate of paper ballots, counted by hand, at the polling place, in full public view, on Election Night, no matter how long it takes. I arrived at this position as a direct result of an audit of the 2004 presidential election in Ohio, undertaken at an unprecedented scale, under my direction. Rady Ananda, an election integrity advocate and a veteran of the Ohio investigation, is quite correct in stating that "our call for hand-counted paper ballots is directly related to our distrust of computerized voting systems."

Pfaffenberger believes "that there would be no such call for paper if the ugly history of fraudulent practices enabled by paper ballots were known." To the contrary, I am well aware of an astonishing variety of fraudulent methods utilized in Ohio, where, in the 2004 election, 85% of the votes were cast on paper -- 70% on punch card ballots, and 15% on paper ballots run through optical scanners. The other 15% of the votes were cast on electronic voting machines."

Thursday, March 05, 2009

German Federal Constitutional Court bans evoting machines

In a landmark ruling the German Federal Constitutional Court has banned all electronic voting machines currently being used in Germany. From [English translation of] the Court's press release (please excuse the formatting):
"The Federal Constitutional Court rendered judgment on two complaints concerning the scrutiny of an election, which were directed against the use of computer-controlled voting machines (socalled voting computers) in the 2005 Bundestag election of the 16th German Bundestag (see German press release no. 85/2008 of 25 September 2008). The Second Senate decided that the use of electronic voting machines requires that the essential steps of the voting and of the determination of the result can be examined by the citizen reliably and without any specialist knowledge of the subject. This requirement results from the principle of the public nature of elections (Article 38 in conjunction with Article 20.1 and 20.2 of the Basic Law Grundgesetz – GG)), which prescribes that all essential steps of an election are subject to the possibility of public scrutiny unless other constitutional interests justify an exception. Accordingly it is, admittedly, constitutionally unobjectionable that § 35 of the Federal Electoral Act (Bundeswahlgesetz – BWG) permits the use of voting machines. However, the Federal Voting Machines Ordinance (Bundeswahlger├Ąteverordnung) is unconstitutional because it does not ensure that only such voting machines are permitted and used which meet the constitutional requirements of the principle of the public nature of elections. According to the decision of the Federal Constitutional Court, the computer-controlled voting machines used in the election of the 16th German Bundestag did not meet the requirements which the constitution places on the use of electronic voting machines. This, however, does not result in the dissolution of the Bundestag because for lack of any indications that voting machines malfunctioned or could have been manipulated, the protection of the continued existence of the elected parliament prevails over the
electoral errors which have been ascertained. To the extent that the manner in which the German Bundestag’s Committee for the Scrutiny of Elections conducted the proceedings was objected to, the complaint for the scrutiny of an election was unsuccessful...

The use of voting machines which electronically record the voters’ votes and electronically ascertain the election result only meets the constitutional requirements if the essential steps of the voting and of the ascertainment of the result can be examined reliably and without any specialist knowledge of the subject. While in a conventional election with ballot papers, manipulations or acts of electoral fraud are, under the framework conditions of the applicable provisions, at any rate only possible with considerable effort and with a very high risk of detection, which has a preventive effect, programming errors in the software or deliberate electoral fraud committed by manipulating the software of electronic voting machines can be recognised only with difficulty. The very wide-reaching effect of possible errors of the voting machines or of deliberate electoral fraud make special precautions necessary in order to safeguard the principle of the public nature of elections.

The voters themselves must be able to understand without detailed knowledge of computer technology whether their votes cast are recorded in an unadulterated manner as the basis of vote counting, or at any rate as the basis of a later recount. If the election result is determined through computer-controlled processing of the votes stored in an electronic memory, it is not sufficient if merely the result of the calculation process carried out in the voting machine can be taken note of by means of a summarising printout or an electronic display...

Limitations of the possibility for the citizens to examine the voting cannot be compensated by an official institution testing sample machines in the context of their engineering type licensing procedure, or the very voting machines which will be used in the elections before their being used, for their compliance with specific security requirements and for their technical integrity. Also an extensive entirety of other technical and organisational security measures alone is not suited to compensate a lack of the possibility of the essential steps of the electoral procedure being examined by the citizens. For the possibility of examining the essential steps of the election
promotes justified trust in the regularity of the election only by the citizens themselves being able to reliably retrace the voting...

III. While the authorisation to issue an ordinance, which is granted by § 35 BWG, does not meet with any overriding constitutional reservations, the Federal Voting Machines Ordinance is unconstitutional because it infringes the principle of the public nature of elections...The Federal Voting Machines Ordinance does not ensure that only such voting machines are used which make it possible to reliably examine, when the vote is cast, whether the vote has been recorded in an unadulterated manner. The ordinance also does not place any concrete requirements as regards its content and procedure on a reliable later examination of the ascertainment of the result...

IV. Also the use of the above-mentioned electronic voting machines in the election to the 16th German Bundestag infringes the public nature of the election. The voting machines did not make an effective examination of the voting possible because due to the fact that the votes were exclusively recorded electronically on a vote recording module, neither voters nor electoral boards nor citizens who were present at the polling station were able to verify the unadulterated recording of the votes cast. Also the essential steps of the ascertainment of the result could not be retraced by the public. It was not sufficient that the result of the calculation process carried out in the voting machine could be taken note of by means of a summarising printout or an electronic display."
In essence the court is saying that the voting machines and associated processes are not sufficiently transparent or auditable to meet the requirements of the German constitution. In addition the limited testing of sample machines prior to an election is not an adequate substitute for transparency in order to gaurantee the integrity of the electoral process.

Sarkozy to be sued for copyright infringement

For a man to has expended so much rhetoric on the need to extend copyright laws to protect rights holders from the hordes of unwashed on the internet and who was so instrumental in pushing through France's three strikes law, it is somewhat ironic to find Nicolas Sarkozy may well find himself at the wrong end of a copyright suit.
"French President Nicolas Sarkozy may be a law-and-order type of guy, but he may have run afoul of copyright law.

Brooklyn-based musical duo MGMT have threatened to sue Sarkozy and his conservative UMP party over misuse of the band's electro-hippie anthem "Kids" at a party rally in January, as well as on two videos available on the party's Web site."
If the report is to be believed, Sarkozy's party, on learning of the infringement, transcended irony, crashing wholesale into hypocrisy by effectively telling the music group's representatives to get lost.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Dutch government study on economic & cultural effects of P2P

An English translation of a Dutch government study, Economic and cultural effects of file sharing on music, film and games has just been published. It is one of the few empirical studies done in this area and as such is highly recommended. From the management summary of the report (apologies for the formatting):
"The main aim of this study is to identify the short- and long-term economic and cultural

effects of file sharing on music, films and games. File sharing is the catch-all term for

uploading and downloading. The short-term implications examined include the direct

costs and benefits to society at large. In order to determine the long-term impact, we

analyse changes in the industry’s business models as well as in cultural diversity and

the accessibility of content.

The study draws on existing sources of information to describe the structure and

operation of the film, games and music industries and discusses the most important

changes in their business models. Digitisation has played a central role in this process.

The trends and developments are subsequently analysed from a legal perspective, with a

primary focus on copyright aspects. The empirical reality of file sharing is described

using data collected during interviews with heavy file sharers as well as data from a

representative survey of 1,500 internet users in the Netherlands. Other sources include

interviews with people working in one of the three entertainment industries and, where

none were available, with industry representatives...

The research shows that the economic implications of file sharing for welfare in the
Netherlands are strongly positive in the short and long terms. File sharing provides
consumers with access to a broad range of cultural products, which typically raises
welfare. Conversely, the practice is believed to result in a decline in sales of CDs,
DVDs and games.

Determining the impact of unlicensed downloading on the purchase of paid content is a
tricky exercise. In the music industry, one track downloaded does not imply one less
track sold. Many music sharers would not buy as many CDs at today’s prices if
downloading were no longer possible, either because they cannot afford it or because
they have other budgetary priorities: they lack purchasing power. At the same time, we see that many people download tracks to get to know new music (sampling) and
eventually buy the CD if they like it. To the extent that file sharing does result in a decline in sales (substitution), it usually entails a transfer of welfare from producers to consumers. With estimated welfare gains accruing to consumers totalling around €200 million a year in the Netherlands, music producers and publishers suffer turnover losses of at most €100 million a year...

The impact of digitisation on the various sectors of the entertainment industry is
substantial. Traditional business models used by distributors in each of these sectors and
most other actors upstream in the value chain (producers and creators) are based on the
controlled access to the products created, in this case films, games and music
(recordings). Copyright gives them control over the use and marketing of their products,
for which they may charge consumers. The practice of file sharing, however, is making
it increasingly difficult for them to maintain control over their works, with the risk of
eroding their commercial foundations...

The music industry finds itself up against a shrinking market for its products and the
ubiquitous problem of file sharing. It may well be that at least part of turnover loss
directly reflects this sharing of digital music files, via P2P networks among other routes.
The industry’s defensive strategy has not succeeded in stemming the swelling tide of
music sharing and has failed to come up with an early answer to today’s new digital
reality. And so it has seen other players, such as Apple, claim key market positions in
marketing and delivering digital music files...

A different picture emerges for the film industry, which is still enjoying growth in a
number of markets: cinema visits and DVD sales. By contrast, DVD rentals have
slumped. This favourable trend compared with the record industry may reflect the fact
that film sharing has not taken off on as large a scale as music sharing. If this is indeed
the reason, increasing broadband penetration might eventually also cause this industry
to record less growth or even to shrink. The urgency the music industry feels to reinvent
its business model might then also take hold in the film industry. Films are also at a
disadvantage in that it is not in the nature of film consumption for many viewers to
quickly want to see the same film again. Free downloading is therefore more likely to
result in substitution here than in the music business...

The games industry is a different story yet again. This business is showing exuberant
growth, particularly at the console games and related hardware end, and the spectre of
file sharing looms much less large in console games than in PC games, where turnover
is now flat. The specific platform-restricted hardware-software-content marriage makes
the official game release so attractive – compared with a music CD – that this industry
might well be able to better prevent or sidestep the file sharing that besets the music
business. The hardware-software-content combine also gives large producers and
distributors in the industry more scope to ensure profitable operations. These
opportunities are sorely lacking in the music and film industries. Another advantage of
the games industry is that concept design and product innovation are much more
embedded in the gaming culture than in the music and film industries, in particular now
that it is increasingly capitalising on the opportunities offered by the Web."

Monday, March 02, 2009

Amazon bows to Authors Guild on Kindle 2 text to speech

From CNet: Amazon retreats on Kindle's text-to-speech issue
"Apparently, Amazon won't fight the publishing industry on the issue of whether the Kindle 2's text-to-speech function violates copyright.

The retailer, which makes the popular Kindle electronic-book reader, announced late Friday that the company is modifying systems to allow authors and publishers to decide whether to enable Kindle's text-to-speech function on a per-title basis.

Amazon began its press release with tough talk. "Kindle 2's experimental text-to-speech feature is legal," Amazon wrote. "No copy is made, no derivative work is created, and no performance is being given."

But then the company says: "We strongly believe many rights holders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver's seat."

There is no mistaking what happened here. Amazon caved. For Kindle owners interested in the text-to-speech feature, the device just lost value."
Larry Lessig, amongst others, is not impressed:
"
adobe_read_allowed.jpg

Amazon has caved into demands from the Authors Guild that it disable the ability of the Kindle to read a book aloud. This is very bad news.

We had this battle before. In 2001, Adobe released e-book technology that gave rights holders (including publishers of public domain books) the ability to control whether the Adobe e-book reader read the book aloud. The story got famous when it was shown that one of its public domain works -- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland -- was marked to forbid the book to be read aloud. (Here's a piece I wrote about this in 2001).

Now the issue is back. The Authors Guild has objected because Amazon's Kindle 2 has a function built in that enables the book to be read aloud. So when, for example, you're commuting, you can plug your Kindle 2 into your MP3 jack and have the book read aloud.

Amazon rightly argued that this did not violate any of the exclusive rights granted by copyright law to the copyright owners. In that, Amazon is exactly right. But nonetheless, it will now enable publishers to decide whether the Kindle books they sell will permit the book to be read aloud. And of course, that includes public domain books.

So here we go again -- How long till we can buy Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and be told that this book "cannot be read aloud"?

But the bigger trend here is much more troubling: Innovative technology company (Amazon (Kindle 2), Google (Google Books)) releases new innovative way to access or use content; so-called "representatives" of rights owners, Corleone-like, baselessly insist on a cut; innovative technology company settles with baseless demanders, and we're all arguably worse off.

We're worse off with the Kindle because if the right get set by the industry that publishers get to control a right which Congress hasn't given them -- the right to control whether I can read my book to my kid, or my Kindle can read a book to me -- users and innovators have less freedom. And we may be worse off with Google Books, because (in ways not clear when the settlement was first reported) the consequence of the class action mechanism may well disable users and innovators from doing what fair use plainly entitled Google to do."

Call for Net blackout protest against French 3 strikes rules

La Quadrature du Net are calling for an internet blackout to protest against the French 3 strikes law.
"Opposing the stubborn and ridiculous will of the French governement to disconnect whole families from the Internet without real proof or trial, La Quadrature du Net issues a call to all freedom-cherishing citizens to a "black-out" of their sites, blogs, profiles, avatars,... As has been done in New Zealand, the only other country with France where the "graduated response" would have been imposed by law, and was finally pushed back: to protest against this stupid law and its "white list" of authorized websites, the French Web must act and dress in black."