Friday, April 22, 2005

Google offer personal serch histories

Privacy advocates are concerned about the implications of Google's move to give people access to their search histories. But one commentator at Forbes, Arik Hesseldahl, thinks they should chill out.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

ISPs ordered to ID file sharers

A UK court, according to the Regsiter, has ordered 5 ISPs to hand over, to the British Phographic Industry, the personal details of 33 customers suspected of engaging in copyright infringement on P2P networks.

Don't place too much credence in the "research" that suggests P2P users would have spent £654m more on music CDs if they had not been downloading. It is currently impossible to tell what proportion of illegal downloads have led to the undermining of a possible purchase. There is a lot of alternative evidence that suggests music sampling on P2P networks has led to an increase in music CD sales. There is just not enough empirical evidence of the complex underlying patterns but there is no direct overall proven single causal link between use of P2P networks and a decrease in CD sales, no matter how intuitive the drawing of such a link might feel.

EDRI-gram 3.8

The latest EDRI-gram circular is now available and as usual has news of a range of important developments.

The French are following the UK lead and planning compulsory biometric ID cards. Cue my repetition of the usual questions:

What problem(/s) are they trying to solve?
A: Vague.
What does the architecture of the system look like?
A: Complex and unworkable.
How well do ID cards solve the problem?
A: Not at all.
How many other problems do they cause?
A: Lots.
How much does it cost (in cash and other trade offs)?
A: A lot.
Is it worth it?
A: No!

Passenger Lists Sought For Flights Over US - WP

The Washington Post has reported that

"The U.S. government plans to force foreign airlines flying over American soil to turn over the names of passengers on board or check the names against U.S. government watch lists in an effort to prevent terrorists from entering U.S. airspace."

Dutch airline KLM have allegedly partly started to comply with this requirement by checking passenger lists against US no fly lists. An airline spokesman said,

"It is not up to an airline to judge the security measures of individual countries"

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Open University and Creative Commons

The Open University have released our Internet law course, based on Larry Lessig's book, The Future of Ideas, under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.

Unfortunately you need to register to get into the site but otherwise it is openly accessible. Your chosen user ID and verifiable email address will only be used by server administrators to monitor site usage and will not be used for any other purpose.

The course originally formed part of the Relevant Knowledge programme of undergraduate technology short courses at the Open University, but is no longer offered as a credit-bearing option which can count towards an Open Unversity degree.

Given the importance of the ideas of of people like Larry to the future of our information society, however, I'd be keen to see the site widely read. It is pitched at a lay audience and so do encourage friends, family and colleagues to dip into at least some parts of the site. It's worth a look if only for the cartoons!

This is the first Open University course to be made available under a creative commons license but I hope it is the first of many.

Prison for file swappers

Yet another copyright law is hitting the books in the US. This time it is the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005.

"(Sec. 103) Establishes criminal penalties for willful copyright infringement by the distribution of a computer program, musical work, motion picture or other audiovisual work, or sound recording being prepared for commercial distribution by making it available on a computer network accessible to members of the public, if the person knew or should have known that the work was intended for commercial distribution."

The criminal penalties referred to are 3 years in jail (and there is also the provision for large fines) for any P2P file sharers found offering a single copy of eg a film on pre-release (or "being prepared for commercial distribution").

As Peter Jaszi said: "I don't think this is an approach that is well calculated to create respect for the system." You certainly must question the proportionality of this.

The "family entertainment" bit of the act makes it legal for viewers to edit out gratuitous sex or violence and for commercial entities to create technologies to automatically cut these parts out to facilitate home produced family friendly versions of films. This was in response to the Directors Guild of America suing ClearPlay for making this kind of software, the popularly labelled "clean flicks" case.

Monday, April 18, 2005

DRM = Choice

Patrick Ross at IPCentral seems to think DRM = Consumer choice. I'll leave that hanging because I don't know whether he really believes it (though there is a good chance he does) or is just trolling.

Blawg Review

"Welcome to a world where inexperienced editors make articles about the wrong topics worse." - Judge Posner's funny introduction to Blawg Review.

WIPO spin lockout on Development agenda

David Tannenbaum is not pleased at the World Intellectual Property Organisation's media advisory is

"putting some heavy spin on the lock-out of civil society NGOs. The media advisory suggests that while "The WIPO secretariat has taken note of non-accredited NGOs that have requested to participate in the [development agenda meetings], on an ad hoc basis," the secretariat isn't going to do much about these requests. The advisory says, "Any departure from the original General Assembly decision on this question rests firmly within the hands of the member states," and refers to the General Assembly decision that "WIPO-accredited IGOs and NGOs are invited to participate as observers in the meetings."
This media advisory suggests that the General Assembly language binds the secretariat to close out civil society NGOs, but the restrictive gloss on this language is a creation of the secretariat alone."

P2P spread the word

The Death in the Afternoon blog has a plan for defending the legitimacy of P2P services.

SCO litigation summary

Martin Keegan posted a nice summary (last November) of the complex SCO litigation.
Stewart Brand reckons "Over the next ten years, I predict, the mainstream of the environmental movement will reverse its opinion and activism in four major areas: population growth, urbanization, genetically engineered organisms, and nuclear power."

He might even be right about GMOs and nuclear power.

Taxonomy of privacy

James Grimmelmann is impressed with Daniel Solove latest law review article, A Taxonomy of Privacy. From Prof. Solove's conclusions:

"Too many courts and policymakers struggle with recognizing privacy problems. Privacy is certainly not an absolute value, but neither are the countervailing interests. Thus protecting privacy requires careful balancing. Unforunately, due to conceptual confusion, courts and legislatures are failing to recognize privacy problems, and if one is not recognized, no balancing takes place. This does not mean that privacy should win in the balance, but it should not simply be dismissed because it is ignored or misconstrued.

When translated into the legal system, privacy is a form of protection against certain harmful or problematic activities. The activities that affect privacy are not necessarily bad or worthy of sanction or prohibition. This fact is what makes addressing privacy issues so complex. In many instances, there is no evil wrongdoer, no villain whose activities have no value or make no social contribution. Instead many privacy problems arise as a result of efficacious activities, much like pollution is an outgrowth of inductrial activity."

The full 61 pages are not for the faint hearted but for those of you with an interest in privacy in our information age, this is better value for your efforts than most law review articles,

Senate transcript

The transcript of the Senate hearing on "securing electronice personal data", following the recently highly publicised leaks of personal information by companies like ChoicePoint, LexisNexis, Citibank and Bank of America is now available online.

Makes interesting reading. The lawmakers in this instance seem to be moving towards a federal requirement that when there is a security leak of personal data then the company hosting the data should notify people whose personal details have been compromised, as is the case in California.