Friday, October 22, 2004

The EFF have set up a website, for posting comments on the US government's "Secure Flight" project which replaces the old CAPPS II system for assimilating airline passenger data.

This is just one strand some really fascinating political developments ongoing in Washington at the moment, with the imminent presidential election and following the publication of the best selling 9/11 Commission Report.

The BBC had another interesting documentary about part of the story on Wednesday evening last, called The Power of Nightmares. It was the first of a three part series in which Adam Curtis analyses the origins of the US neo-conservative movement and the parallels with the development of organisations like Al Qaeda.
By coincidence yesterday, just as I was writing the bit of my submission to mentioning Acacia's patent lawsuits against educational institutions, someone sent me an email about an update to developments in Acacia's lawyerland. 

It seems that the owner of the much disputed sex dot com domain name, Gary Kremen, has donated a large sum to the adult media (i.e. pornography) industry's defense fund in their ongoing patent litigation with Acacia.
Apparently US passports are going to have embedded RFID chips. They haven't come across Bruce Schneier's lucid explanation about why this is a bad idea then?
Don King and Lennox Lewis went to battle in the UK Court of Appeal over the summer over libel allegations. The Court has made its judgement this week and the interesting point is that the court contends that in Net libel cases, publication takes place in the jurisdiction where the offending material is downloaded. This follows the basic ideas outlined in the Gutnick v Dow Jones case in Australia and indeed the Court of Appeal make a significant reference to Gutnick.

They do partly cover the area of "jurisdiction shopping" i.e the notion that the claimant looks around for the jurisdiction where they are likely to get the most favorable settlement. Their view as to the appropriate forum is that it should be a question for the judge, taking account of all the appropriate circumstances of the particular case. Their guiding reference on this point comes from a shipping dispute case, Spiliada Maritime Corp. v Cansulex Ltd.

With apologies to those of you who have difficulty with legalese, it is worth quoting the relevant extract from Lord Goff's decision in the Spiliada case:

"The key to the solution of this problem lies, in my judgment, in the underlying fundamental principle. We have to consider where the case may be tried ‘suitably for the interests of all the parties and for the ends of justice.’ Let me consider the application of that principle in relation to advantages which the plaintiff may derive from invoking the English jurisdiction. Typical examples are: damages awarded on a higher scale; a more complete procedure of discovery; a power to award interest; a more generous limitation period. Now, as a general rule, I do not think that the court should be deterred from granting a stay of proceedings… simply because the plaintiff will be deprived of such an advantage, provided that the court is satisfied that substantial justice will be done in the available appropriate forum. Take, for example, discovery. We know that there is a spectrum of systems of discovery applicable in various jurisdictions… No doubt each of these systems has its virtues and vices; but, generally speaking, I cannot see that, objectively, injustice can be said to have been done if a party is, in effect, compelled to accept one of these well-recognised systems applicable in the appropriate forum overseas… Then take the scale on which damages are awarded. Suppose that two parties have been involved in a road accident in a foreign country, where both were resident, and where damages are awarded on a scale substantially lower than those awarded in this country. I do not think that an English court would, in ordinary circumstances, hesitate to stay proceedings brought by one of them against the other in this country merely because he would be deprived of a higher award of damages here.

But the underlying principle requires that regard must be had to the interests of all the parties and the ends of justice; and these considerations may lead to a different conclusion in other cases… [T]ake the example of cases concerned with time bars… Now, to take extreme examples, suppose that the plaintiff allowed the limitation period to elapse in the appropriate jurisdiction, and came here simply because he wanted to take advantage of a more generous time bar applicable in this country; or suppose that it was obvious that the plaintiff should have commenced proceedings in the appropriate jurisdiction, and yet he did not trouble to issue a protective writ there; in cases such as these, I cannot see that the court should hesitate to stay the proceedings in this country, even though the effect would be that the plaintiff’s claim would inevitably be defeated by a plea of the time bar in the appropriate jurisdiction. Indeed a strong theoretical argument can be advanced for the proposition that, if there is another clearly more appropriate forum for the trial of the action, a stay should generally be granted even though the plaintiff’s action would be time barred there. But, in my opinion, this is a case where practical justice should be done. And practical justice demands that, if the court considers that the plaintiff acted reasonably in commencing proceedings in this country, and that, although it appears that (putting on one side the time bar point) the appropriate forum for the trial of the action is elsewhere than England, the plaintiff did not act unreasonably in failing to commence proceedings… in that jurisdiction within the limitation period applicable there, it would not, I think, be just to deprive the plaintiff of the benefit of having started proceedings within the limitation period applicable in this country… "

US commentators will likely be critical on free speech and most restrictive regime grounds but it's a thoughtful analysis of the issues, (even if I don't completely agree with it).
Singapore are going to jail copyright infringers.

People who download copyrighted material face large fines and 6 months in jail or 3 years in jail for repeat offenders. It's apparently not aimed at kids but those who seek to gain a commercial advantage.
If you're interested in computers in education, I've just made a contribution on the subject to William Heath's idealgoverment site.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Incidently, Robert Cringely also has a plan to improve voter turnout in elections - get those who are enthusiasts to encourage 3 apathetic friends. You could call it the pyramid nagging voter scheme.
Andrew Cringely is wondering whether Microsoft lied to the Department of Justice during their big antitrust trial.

"This week, the news from recently unsealed court documents is that Microsoft may have deliberately lied not only to Burst, but also to the other anti-trust litigants right up to and including the U.S. Department of Justice.

You will find the two relevant unsealed documents in their entirety in this week's list of links. I'm going to characterize them here, but please read the documents for yourself. One thing to keep in mind here is that documents are unsealed when the judge decides that it is more important for the public to know what is in them than to not know, so Judge Motz, too, thinks this is worth your time. By the way, this is probably the first time these documents have been broadly released, so if you read them, your friends won't know what you are talking about. That may change if some big news organization gets smart and picks up the story.

One huge issue in Burst v. Microsoft is missing e-mails that should have appeared in the discovery portion of the case, but didn't. Burst knows there are lost messages because many of them were to and from Burst, itself, so they have their copies. But not only are the known messages lost from Microsoft's e-mail archive, so are any messages on the same subject that may have been sent between the Microsoft people, themselves, and not shared with Burst -- messages that Burst only believes to exist, but it's a pretty fair assumption that some such mail did happen. I have written about this before, and it plays back to a haphazard corporate e-mail retention policy at Microsoft that seems to conveniently lose any damning evidence."

You'll find the Burst documents referred to at
Speaking of ID cards, does the UK need them?
The UK government Constitutional Affairs Secretary, Lord Falconer, thinks the Data Protection Act is in need of reform because it is too complicated and it makes the sharing personal information too difficult. This of course would be perceived as a problem in the light of the coming national ID card and other proposed UK government IT schemes.
The Greater London Authory are tendering for an "Electronic voting/vote counting system(s)." The value of the contract is not specified.
Blogger Adam Fields is not too enamoured with the prospect of a Google P2P network because one of the key constituents would be Orkut. Reading the smallprint of the Orkut license, this would give Google a “worldwide, non-exclusive, sublicenseable, transferable, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right to copy, distribute, create derivative works of, publicly perform and display” any of the files on your computer.

In fairness to the Google folks, they would probably review the license before launching such a service but look out for that small print.

Monday, October 18, 2004

There's an excellent article on patents at Groklaw.
GetNetWise to spyware.
There are lots more stupid airport security stories doing the rounds at the moment but one of my favorite is the teacher getting arrested at Tampa International Airport for having a leather bookmark.

Definitely not amusing for the lady involved.
Bruce Schneier has pointed me at an interesting essay written at the beginning of last year about the psychology of terrorism.
In the wake of the seizure of the Rackspace IndyMedia hosting servers in London, John is wondering whether

" There may be a case, for example, for NGOs across the world to band together to set up an ISP which would be prepared to investigate and vigorously contest complaints and injunctions from the established order. The days when we could assume that we could 'publish and be damned' on the net are over."
The former Director of the US Office of National Risk Assessment, which ran the now defunct CAPPS II aviation screening program (it's been replaced, regular readers will be aware, with the "Secure Flight" system), has decided to commercialise the system which cost the US government about $100 million.

Ben H. Bell III, who has also been an intelligence official with the Immigration and Naturalization service, has become CEO of Global Information Group based in the Bahamas, where he plans, according to the Washington Post to

"use some of the same concepts, technology and contractors [as CAPPS II]to assess people for risk, outside the reach of U.S. regulators, according to documents and interviews."

Global's founder, Donald Thibeau says:

"You can realize the CAPPS dream in the commercial world... We live in a world where data can go anywhere and be warehoused anywhere."

Peter Swire, who was the privacy chief in the Clinton administration has a different perspective:

"As a business matter, there are layers of legal protections and public relations protections they can get by going offshore... It might meet business interests, but not necessarily the public interest."

I have a question - what is the perspective of the US government on an offshore company entity commercialising something they have spent tens of millions of dollars developing? Will they, for example, get to negotiate reduced rates for access to the databases created?
I hear from Stephen Maurer at the Goldman School of Public Policy, UC Berkeley, that a "Information Technology and Public Policy" course currently being offered on-line by University of Washington's CS Dept. and UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy:


As part of this course, David Dill from Stanford gives a particularly interesting lecture on one of the regularly visited subject areas of b2fxxx, electronic voting. Recommended, as with most video streaming, to folks with broadband only, unless you're a particularly patient 56k modem user.