Friday, February 11, 2005

EPIC and ACLU on RFID tagging of kids

EPIC and the ACLU have weighed into the controversy I mentioned yesterday about schoolkids getting electronically tagged. They have written a joint letter to the Brittan School Board which overseas the school involved. From EPIC's latest Alert:

"The joint letter argues that the monitoring of children with RFID tags is comparable to the tracking of cattle, shipment pallets, or dangerous criminals in high-security prisons. Using this extensive inventory-like tagging is demeaning to children, regardless of age, and creates an atmosphere of disrespect for, and distrust of, students. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ratified by the United States, protects dignity as an essential component of a human being and a condition for freedom and equality. The RFID badges, the letter continues, also jeopardize the safety and security of students by broadcasting their identity and location information to anyone with a chip reader. The RFID badges will make it much easier for anyone, not only school officials, to target and find Brittan schoolchildren, both at school and in the community at large. Forcing children to wear badges around their necks displaying their personal information also exposes them to potential discrimination since the name of their school may disclose their religious beliefs or social class.

The badges also seem to be a solution in search of a problem since there appears to be no history of either security or attendance problems in the school. Security experts have argued that using RFID technologies to track schoolchildren does not adequately answer school-related security concerns such as limiting the risk of kidnapping or preventing the entry of strangers on school grounds. The security gained, they say, is not worth the money spent and the privacy and dignity lost. The goal of making children safer could be achieved by spending the money elsewhere, from education programs for children and their parents, to the hiring of school guards."

downloading riskier than stealing

Karl Wagenfuehr has done a comparison of the relative penalties for infringing copyright through downloading and "real, physical theft."

"But from what I can tell, the penalties laid out for downloading one season of a TV show with BitTorrent are much harsher than if you actually stole a DVD set of the same show from a government store. I lay out a practical example in detail below, but to cut to the chase: For stealing the DVD you could face no more than up to 1 year imprisonment and up to a $100,000 fine; for downloading the same material you could face statutory damages of up to $3,300,000, costs and attorney's fees (ie: the other guy's attorneys), as well as up to 1 year imprisonment, and up to a $100,000 fine...

Am I alone in thinking there is something really, really wrong here?"

Well Cory is waxing lyrical about this too, so he's not alone.

"One has to wonder, then, what kind of crazy society we live in given the relative penalties for infringing a copyright using a computer as compared to stealing an object from a store? Why kind of fool lawmaker lets himself get talked into making this social policy?"

Thursday, February 10, 2005

EDRI-gram - Number 3.3, 9 February 2005

EDRI-gram - Number 3.3, 9 February 2005 has just been published. As usual full of interesting digital rights news.

Parents Protest Student Computer ID Tags

From the Washington Post, Parents Protest Student Computer ID Tags.

"The system was imposed, without parental input, by the school as a way to simplify attendance-taking and potentially reduce vandalism and improve student safety. Principal Earnie Graham hopes to eventually add bar codes to the existing ID's so that students can use them to pay for cafeteria meals and check out library books."

Somebody should introduce this head teacher to Bruce Schneier.

"Step 1: What assets are you trying to protect? Children.

Step 2: What are the risks to these assets? Loss of the child, either due to kidnapping or accident...

Step 3: How well does the security solution mitigate those risks? Not very well...

Step 4: What other risks does the security solution cause? The additional risk is the data collected through constant surveillance. Where is this information collected? Who has access to it? How long is it stored? These are important security questions that get no mention.

Step 5: What costs and trade-offs does the security solution impose? There are two. The first is obvious: money. I don’t have it figured, but it’s expensive to outfit every child with an ID card... The second cost is more intangible: a loss of privacy. We are raising children who think it normal that their daily movements are watched and recorded... That feeling of privacy is not something we should give up lightly.

So, finally: is this system worth it? No. The security gained is not worth the money and privacy spent. If the goal is to make children safer, the money would be better spent elsewhere: guards at the schools, education programs for the children, etc...

The five-step process is a subjective one, and should be evaluated from the point of view of the person making the trade-off decision. If you imagine that the school officials are making the trade-off, then the system suddenly makes sense."

Why? Well, if the Washington Post is correct, the company that sells the system has "paid the school several thousand dollars" for trying it out and also "promised a royalty from each sale if the system takes off."

Always watch out for the agenda of the decision maker.

SCO v IBM judge asks for evidence

SCO look to have got on the wrong side of the federal judge hearing their case against IBM. U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball said yesterday:

"Despite the vast disparity between SCO's public accusations and its actual evidence--or complete lack thereof--and the resulting temptation to grant IBM's motion, the court has determined that it would be premature to grant summary judgment...Viewed against the backdrop of SCO's plethora of public statements concerning IBM's and others' infringement of SCO's purported copyrights to the Unix software, it is astonishing that SCO has not offered any competent evidence to create a disputed fact regarding whether IBM has infringed SCO's alleged copyrights through IBM's Linux activities."

Do you get the impression he thinks SCO are wasting everyone's time and energy?

SW patents Council of Ministers try try again

As I mentioned last week, in spite of the JURI (legal affairs committee of the EU parliament) asking the Commission to start again with the software patent directive proposals,(otherwise known as the Computer Implemented Inventions (CII) directive) the Council of Ministers are merrily planning their next attempt to drive through the current draft, which has been the subject of so much criticism. According to the Register,

"Brussels bureaucrats will likely confirm tomorrow that the directive will be back as an A-point item at the next meeting of the Council of Economic and Financial Affairs, slated for 17 February.

Poland, which has blocked the bill on two occasions, now says it will support the draft in a new vote, despite reservations about the impact of the legislation on smaller businesses. This clears the path for the bill to proceed to its second reading, when Poland says it will seek changes."

Cory is calling opponents to arms (metaphorically speaking, lest I be misinterpreted!) as is Rob Heverly at UEA.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Good people with bad papers...

"There are good people with bad papers; and bad people with good papers."
- Bertold Brecht

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Bartow's Critique of Copyright Treatise Hegemony

Another terrific law journal article for the legal eagles. A working draft of Ann Bartow's "The Hegemony of the Copyright Treatise," is available from the SSRN website. She criticises the uncritical acceptance by the courts of the standard copyright textbooks, most specifically Nimmer on Copyright. Bartow says that she would be unlikely to be able to produce "an equally comprehensive treatise that is objectively more accurate" but even "neutral" copyright textbook authors have personal values which colour their interpretation of the law. And that this should be borne in mind when their treatises are being used by the courts to apply that law.

She uses an Einstein quote up front which beautifully encapsulates the message of the article, "Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth."

Nightime photos of the Eiffel Tower

What To Do When You Can't Publish Nighttime Photos Of The Eiffel Tower
No comment.

Segway guards public parks and copyright

David Bollier is sad to have found another example of copyright overreaching.

"Now comes word from the Chicago Reader (January 28; subscribers only) that the managers of Chicago's Millennium Park require a permit and payment of a fee in order to take photos in a Chicago park. In a story by Ben Joravsky, “The Bean Police,” we learn that Warren Wimmer was trying to take a picture of Cloud Gate, a massive sclupture knoown known locally as “The Bean,” when two security guards on Segways cruised up to him and asked if he had a permit – “a permit that lets you take pictures of the park.”...

Wimmer hit upon a familiar Chicago resolution: he slipped the guard $20. He then spent another 15 minutes shooting photos, and left...

When the Chicago Reader approached Ed Uhlir, the project director for Millennium Park, to ask about all this, his press assistant responded:

“The copyrights for the enhancements in Millennium Park [i.e., the Bean, the band shell, the fountain, gardens and other features] are owned by the artist who created them. As such, anyone reproducing the works, especially for commercial purposes, needs the permission of that artist.” The press aide also said, “Artists are increasingly sophisticated about copyrights and this is standard practice for today’s artists….This was not the case years ago.”

So there you have it: even some of our most obviously public places are not really public any more; they are private property. I can only imagine what's coming next – making micro-payments via wireless devices for glimpses of public landmarks? Why not -- the city could use the money, right? What I want to know is whether the artists and architects involved have paid everyone who has every flitted across their creative consciousness. A sad story. The market pathology clearly goes deeper than most of us had imagined. This is not the way to revive our public spaces or make cities convivial places to be."

Post predicts Grokster loss in SCOTUS

David Post is predicting that Grokster is going to lose their case against MGM at the Supreme Court.

And Donna has a few things to say about the RIAA suing dead people.

Harry Potter and the Army

I missed this story in the Sunday Times this week. J.K. Rowling's lawyer is considering what to do about a US Army maintenance magazine.

"The magazine, The Preventive Maintenance Monthly, includes a cartoon character called Topper, a boy wizard, who attends Mogmarts school of magic. Harry Potter, Rowling?s boy wizard creation, attends the Hogwarts school of magic.

In the magazine, army officials are given a lesson from Professor Rumbledoore and his staff, a name strikingly similar to Rowling?s Professor Dumbledore. Other characters in the magazine include professors McDonagal and Snappy, and a Miss Ranger. The Harry Potter books feature professors McGonagall and Snape and Hermione Granger."

All the Harry Potter legal cases have been interesting stories in themselves, as have those related to Lord of the Rings, Winnie the Pooh , Peter Pan and lots more. My children love the Harry Potter books and I have to say I enjoy reading them aloud and experiencing the kids' captivation with Rowling's magical world. The youngest is particularly tuned into the occasional slapstick humour and loves the Hagrid character. His spontaneous and infectious giggling at times has us all in stitches with laughter that has a magic all of its own.

P2P suits in Israel

The trend towards suing individuals for using P2P networks for infringing copyright seems to have reached Israel. The journalist has apparently found someone, "A.", who claims to have about 25000 illegal files on his machine, who is scared he might be sued. Copying the files to CD/DVD and deleting them off his computer hard disk is not going to provide him with any defense if he gets caught.

"Don't you ever feel that you are stealing the songs you download?

A.: "To tell you the truth, no. About 80 percent of what I download is independent music by artists who are signed with labels that are not well known, and I tend to think and want to believe that the artists who create this music are interested in having as many people as possible listen to their work. I don't listen to Madonna or M People and things like that." "

NYT on Grokster PR battle

THe NYT have an accessible story on the PR difficulties both sides have in the MGM v Grokster case. Lots of quotes from the usual suspects.

"So many of the issues that we deal with are really abstruse, And yet they touch a whole segment of the public that we want to reach out to." Wendy Selzer, EFF.

"People knew they couldn't steal a video tape out of Blockbuster," Dan Glickman, MPAA.

The MPAA seem to have an easier message to sell but are still up against the greedy- corporation-that-sell-DVDs-at-ridiculously-high-prices image.

"It's hard for two reasons. Copyright law is not the easiest thing to explain, and it's hard to put a bumper sticker on it. But, you're also talking about the future, and it's hard to explain to a consumer that there could one day be a lot of restrictions on what you can do with new technology." Rick Weingarten, American Library Association.

Spot on.

VeriSign and the Spyware Cos

James Grimmelmann points me at Ben Edelman's latest piece of smart digital detective work, which says James,

"turns the harsh light of public scrutiny on VeriSign's grubby practices in issuing digital certificates to vendors who try to install spyware by tricking users into clicking 'yes' with low-down dirty lying dialog boxes.

Now, Ben wants VeriSign to clean up its act: it should refuse to issue certificates to companies that use obviously fake names (such as "CLICK YES TO CONTINUE") or that use those certificates to deceive consumers. For Ben, it seems to be a matter of moral suasion: he points to VeriSign's anti-spyware public statements and he points to terms in VeriSign's contracts with companies that use its certificates that give VeriSign the right to revoke those certificates in exactly these situations.

I agree wholeheartedly, but something else is bothering me about VeriSign's actions in digitally signing certificates with obviously faked company names. Isn't that illegal? Why do we have to ask VeriSign to do right voluntarily, pretty-please?"

BTW James had a really interesting article, Virtual Worlds as Comparative Law, 49 N.Y.L.S. L. Rev. 147 (2004), published in the New York Law School Law Review, just before Christmas. (Like all law journal articles it's not for the average reader but it does use the architecture of digital games to draw some enlightening lessons in thinking about the law, which most of us don't realise is quite a technical, sometimes even mathematical subject area).

RIAA v dead woman

The RIAA have decided not to pursue an illegal downloading case against an 83 year old woman who died in September and hated computers. The woman's daughter said "I am pretty sure she is not going to leave Greenwood Memorial Park (where she is buried) to attend the hearing."

Monday, February 07, 2005

UK Patent Office Workshops on SW patents

The UK Patent Office have decided to hold a series of workshops on the proposed EU software patents directive, specifically to explore the meaning of the term "technical effect" which has been the cause of some of the heated debate amongst the various protagonists on all sides in the dispute.

Good for them.

Terror and lightning

Ian Gardiner, a former Royal Marine, writing in the Scotsman, says in Fear is the key in this theatre of the absurd that "statistically, you have about as much chance of being a terrorist victim as you have of being struck by lightning."

"So, what should our own response to the terrorist threat be?

Firstly, don’t be terrified. Don’t even be anxious. Keep things in proportion. Yes, we might suddenly find ourselves slammed out of the blue into some vile violent terrorist hell. But we might also be hit by lightning, or a bus - or a tsunami. So, relax and don’t worry about it, and don’t let the media wind you up. Secondly, don’t let our own government get things out of proportion. A baleful, sceptical eye should be cast over all attempts to introduce illiberal laws and to increase government powers and spending on the back of the apparent increased threat. Don’t let them erode further your privacy or your liberty without good cause.

And, lastly, don’t stand under trees during thunderstorms, mind how you cross the road - and remember to use a condom."

Sensible advice. Now about those ID cards...