Friday, November 26, 2004

According to Intellectual Property Watch,

"In an October 15 speech, the Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Jonathan Dudas, vowed that the U.S. government will “fight” proposals that aim to “fundamentally change the WIPO charter and philosophy” away from its current focus on the promotion of intellectual property."

No surprises there but the strength of the comments suggest that the adoption of the development agenda by WIPO has caused some ripples.
The front page of the Guardian reports that there has been a massive IT failure at the Department for Work and Pensions this week.

"Pension and benefit payments face disruption after what is being described as the biggest computer crash in government history left as many as 80,000 civil servants staring at blank screens and reverting to writing out giro cheques by hand in the latest blow to a hi-tech Whitehall revolution."

This is the system which will need to 'talk' to the proposed ID card system, that amongst other things according to David Blunkett, is going to solve the problem of benefit fraud. Mmmmm, a new IT catastrophe communicating with an old IT catastrophe. That sure does inspire a lot of confidence in the notion that ID cards will cut benefit fraud.

On another biometric related story, the EU Council of Ministers appear to be attempting ot pull a fast one by putting pressure on the EU Parliament to rush through the compulsory biometric passports for all EU citizens. Apparently the Dutch Presidency of the EU:

"are pushing hard for a decision at its plenary session in Brussels on 1-2 December on the grounds that a decision is urgently needed to meet the deadline set by the USA under its Visa Waiver Programme for:

"authentication idendifiers that comply with applicable biometric identifying standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organisation"

This begs a fundamental question as the ICAO standard says:

"Facial recognition was selected as the globally interoperable biometric for machine-assisted identity confirmation with MRTDs [Machine Readable Travel Documents]"

"Facial recognition" can be met by the simple digitisation of current passport photos - this is not a biometric. "Facial recognition", or "facial image" in the Council's draft, can refer either to simple digitisation or to a "facial scan" which is a biometric (the scan collects up to 1,820 characteristics from each individuals face). "Facial recognition" not fingerprints were selected as the global standard by the ICAO.

US demands can be met by the Council's old draft - mandatory facial image and optional fingerprinting - so how can the decision be termed "urgent"? The USA does not require fingerprints to be used in foreign countries passports.

More importantly the purported legal basis for the measure concerns control of the EU's external borders not the demands of a non-EU state."

Yet the EC (Nice) Treaty says any EU legislation on the free movement of EU citizens:

"shall not apply to provisions on passports, identity cards, residence permits or any other such document"

which presumably means the EU are expressly forbidden from legislating to introduce compulsory biometrics on passports. But given enough lawyers and politicians the meaning can no doubt be reversed.
The British Phonographic Industry are reporting that the "third quarter of 2004 concluded the best 12 months for album sales in UK record industry history." Good for them. Now about that argument regarding P2P networks doing irreparable damage to the industry...

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Larry Lessig on Bytes and Bullets. Briefly - if P2P software, PC and hardware suppliers are to be held liable for copyright infringement engaged in by users of their products (as is proposed under pending legislation), are gun manufacturers going to be held liable for the deaths and injuries arising from the use of their products?

Good question but quite an emotive and legally complex one for the US, where the Constitution apparently gaurantees the right to bear arms.
Michael Geist says "Copyright Reform is Not a Spectator Sport" in his call to arms to Canadian academics.

"It is time for teachers, researchers, education administrators, librarians and students to speak out loudly against proposed policies that threaten the use of the Internet within Canadian schools by establishing unnecessary copyright license fees that seek to extend the term of copyright to the detriment of Canadian historians, and that introduce new legal protections that threaten to chill scientific and security research. They should further seize this opportunity by presenting a positive vision of reform that could benefit Canadian research and the broader community."

Actually, it's time UK academics also got involved. More power to his elbow.
Well, David Blunkett has got his way on ID cards with his plans to introduce the scheme included in the Queen's speech yesterday.

"The home secretary believes identity cards will help tackle international terrorism, identity theft and help the work of the UK immigration services."

Laudable aims, you would think but let's look at some of the planned verification uses of the ID cards that civil servants in the Home Office are working on:

Preventing underage sales of DVDs, cigarettes, lottery tickets and alcohol (also laudable but do we need a compulsory national ID card for this?)

Enforcing parking fines

Banking service and mortgage applications

TV license and car tax applications

Applications for benefits

Applications for driving tests

Access to public services such as GPs or hospitals

Applications for gun licenses

You can just hear those frightened international terrorists - uh oh, we better not try the UK, they'll make us pay our parking fines and we might find it hard to get a TV license. This would be amusing if it wasn't so serious.
Malcolm Gladwell, the New Yorker journalist I mentioned yesterday, has done an interesting radio interview about the apparent plagiarism of one of his news profiles about a well know psychologist. He's joined in the studio by law professor Justin Hughes who provides a very clear analysis of intellectual property law.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

John on Repetitive Failure Syndrome - or RFS. Spot on as ever:

"IT systems fail because those who design them don't understand the organisations into which the IT has to fit, seem incapable of involving the organisation's people meaningfully in the design process, fail to keep them informed of progress and pay little attention to training and support. It's laughably simple - yet time and again nobody does any of these things properly."

I'd just add that the decision makers within organisations who commission these IT systems get dazzled by vendors claims of magic and singularly fail to specify what they actually want them to do.
James Boyle in the FT:

"Imagine a process of reviewing prescription drugs which goes like this: representatives from the drug company come to the regulators and argue that their drug works well and should be approved. They have no evidence of this beyond a few anecdotes about people who want to take it and perhaps some very simple models of how the drug might affect the human body. The drug is approved. No trials, no empirical evidence of any kind, no follow-up. Or imagine a process of making environmental regulations in which there were no data, and no attempts to gather data, about the effects of the particular pollutants being studied. Even the harshest critics of drug regulation or environmental regulation would admit we generally do better than this. But this is often the way we make intellectual property policy."

Read the article to get his wider perspective of the issue and his specific concerns relating to the 1996 EU Database directive and lobbyist attempts to push similar legislation in the US without any supporting empirical evidence about the potential benefits or disadvantages. I particularly like James' rules of thumb for regulators:

1. "when someone with a profit margin over 20% asks you for additional monopoly protection, pause before agreeing."

2. "Do no harm! Do not create rights without strong evidence that the incentive effect is worth the anti-competitive cost."
The British Medical Association are boycotting the new NHS computerised hospital appointment booking system due to fears about confidentiality of patient data. With government pumping about £6 billion into NHS computer systems and a general election looming there will be more than a few irritated government ministers.
"Something Borrowed" from the New Yorker tells an interesting story of Bryony Lavery's play "Frozen" and allegations of plagiarism. The author of the piece, Malcolm Gladwell, is quite sympathetic towards the playwright, despite apparently writing the piece that was one of Ms Lavery's main sources for the play.
Nice round-up at eGov monitor of David Blunkett's speech last week where he was extolling the virtues of ID cards and criticising supermarket loyalty cards. Also includes a note about other speeches made on the day including that of the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, who has serious concerns about the government's proposals.
"Microsoft alum Nathan Myhrvold runs a firm that doesn't make anything, but it's hoarding the key to a new business age: intellectual property" So says this piece at NewsWeek.
In yet another attempt to shift the goalposts on ID cards, David Blunkett tried a new tactic last week of expressing concern for personal privacy and calling for more checks on supermarket loyalty card data collection.

"In a speech, Mr Blunkett said the cards produced key details about people's shopping habits but were accepted because they were run by private firms.

People should not distrust ID cards because they are a state idea, he said."

His concern for our privacy is touching but like Mr Blunkett I don't have a supermarket loyalty card. I wonder why he doesn't have one?

"The scheme would be worthwhile if it reinforced identity and citizenship, he said. If not, he would "be remembered as one of the biggest political failures that Britain has ever produced"."

Political failure is right and by the time that comes to be generally accepted a huge amount of money will have been flushed away (billions of pounds), not to mention the other negative effects.
It seems that the recent breaking of the Internet data transmission record has energised the MPAA into starting talks with high speed Internet researchers, with view to keeping abreast of developments.
Some researchers at the University of California Berkeley have theorised, using statistics and publicly available election data, that President Bush may have got 130000 or more votes in Florida than he was entitled to, due to "irregularites associated with electronic voting machines". Bush won Florida by 350000 votes, so it would not have changed the outcome but the researchers suggest there is a need to examine currently depolyed evoting systems with a view to improving them.
How Hilary learned to love Larry - Hilary Rosen, former chief of the RIAA, has become persuaded of the value of creative commons.
The Internet Archive have offered to host creative commons licenced audio and video files free of charge. Creative Commons have taken advantage by creating software called the Publisher to let you drag and drop files into the Internet Archive.