Friday, August 12, 2005

Da Vinci Code film

John's been thinking about the secrecy surrounding the making of the film version of Dan Brown's bestselling book, the Da Vinci Code.

"There are rumours of strong pressure on the film-makers to change the plot of the book (thereby, it seems to me, missing the entire point of the book).

Here’s how things stack up: on the one hand, there are all those Da Vinci Code fans out there (37 million copies sold, so far); on the other, all those devout Christian fanatics. Which way will Sony jump? Watch this space…"

Google better at searching gov sites

From what's new on the UK legal web,

"you will generally get a more helpful result set using a Google site search of government sites (ie prefix the search terms with than you will by just searching within Directgov."

Minority report on the identity trail

Hilary Young on the indentity trail confesses she doesn't care much about informational privacy and companies collecting details about her so they can target appropriate offers in her direction.

"Now before you revoke my membership in the On the Identity Trail project, let me defend myself. I think one of the most important things this project is doing is imagining the implications of various future legal, policy and technological changes so that we as a society can make informed decisions about what we want to happen. If, knowing the consequences, people want to live in a Minority Report-type world where ads are targeted to specific individuals, that's fine by me. The problem is that we risk ending up in such situations, not because we've chosen them, but because we have made a number of incremental decisions that led to an undesirable result only because we didn't have the foresight to avoid it."

Incremental ill-informed decisions that lead to undesirable results are, unfortunately, all too common in the technology arena.

DMCA v Darknet

Ed Felton is amongst the participants in an online discussion next week on the balancing the benefits of developments in technology against the downside that those technologies can also be used towards less than ethical ends. Promises to be lively with a cast of very smart thinkers on the issues.

Open access and the academy

Heather Morrison has been thinking about the positive feedback she's got recently on one of her articles available in an open repository and the benefits more generally of open access.

Timeliness: by archiving a preprint, I am able to reach potential readers in a much more timely fashion.

Impact: by sharing the article openly, more people are reading it, and acting on the ideas. Others have demonstrated the academic impact advantage of open access (increased citations) through research. This is real world impact - most likely to be relevant for faculty in the professional programs. This makes professional practice informed by research possible, illustrated by the trend towards evidence-based medicine.

Access: people whose libraries do not have subscriptions are much more likely to read the article.

Prestige: for those who do write and present a fair bit, this is a way to show off. This is not (entirely) self-serving; read on...

The description of her blog also gives you an idea of her perspective on all this:

Imagine a world where anyone can instantly access all of the world's scholarly knowledge - as profound a change as the invention of the printing press. Technically, this is within reach. All that is needed is a little imagination, to reconsider the economics of scholarly communications from a poetic viewpoint.

Google Print scans on hold until November

Google's effort to digitise all the world's out-of-copyright books is suspending the scanning of books until November to give publishers and authors an opportunity to opt out of having their books included in the project.

Update: Aaron Swartz is not pleased. And Siva and Derek Slater have entered that particular debate.

Isenberg on the new FCC approach to the Net

David Isenberg is concerned at the change in approach of the FCC, since Michael Powell stepped down and former FCC commissioner Kevin Martin took over as chairman.

Powell: Freedom to access content.
Martin: Consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice.

Powell: Freedom to run applications.
Martin: Consumers are entitled to run applications and services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement;

Powell: Freedom to attach devices.
Martin: Consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.

Powell: Freedom to obtain service plan information.
Martin: Consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.

And the Martin FCC adds an important footnote:

All of these principles are subject to reasonable network management.

Some of the people commenting on his posting disagree and see little difference between the new chairman and the old.

Thought thieve$

From the EFF:

"Never afraid to reach new heights on the unintentional
comedy scale, Microsoft UK debuted its "Thought Thieves"
film competition in May
. Microsoft called for original
videos "about people stealing the ideas in your head"
and "intellectual property theft."

To counter this misleading campaign, a few good souls
"stole" the idea and started the "Thought Thieve$" film
competition "about big companies stealing and profiting
from the knowledge commons." Reads the announcement:

"Think about it: how would you feel if you saw your
cultural traditions, collective creativity,
thousands-year-old seed strains, indigenous medicinal
knowledge, or even your very genetic code being passed
off as the property of some multinational corporation?
What would you do?"

EFF is an affiliate of the competition, so we're helping
to spread the word! If you have a story to tell about corporate piracy, send your short film in by September
16, 2005. You may win prizes and be included in an
international distribution and screening series.

Check out the contest website for details:"

Clever. It will be interesting to see how the entries in the rival competitions compare!

Court dismiss Jet Blue privacy suit

A court in New York has thrown out a privacy lawsuit against JetBlue airways over their controversial disclosure of passenger details to the government as raw material to test a data mining system. EPIC have some background information on their involvement in chasing the government for details of why the information was handed over and how it was used.

In September 2003, JetBlue Airways confirmed that it had provided 5 million passenger itineraries, without the passengers' consent, to defense contractor Torch Concepts to test the feasibility of an Army data mining project. Torch Concepts added to the JetBlue data information it purchased from Acxiom, a large consumer research company. This information included passengers' Social Security numbers, occupations, income, gender, home ownership, car ownership, and the number of adults and children living in the passengers' households.

On February 20, 2004, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Privacy Office released a report (pdf) on the JetBlue disclosure which said that in 2002 officials of Torch Concepts met with Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials. After this meeting, a TSA employee sent JetBlue a written request asking the airline to provide passenger data to the Defense Department for use in the Torch Concepts study. The report found that TSA employees involved "acted without appropriate regard for individual privacy interests or the spirit of the Privacy Act of 1974," but that no violation of the law had occurred.

In April 2004, American Airlines' parent corporation issued a press release admitting that an American Airlines vender had turned over passenger travel data to four research companies vying for contracts with TSA.

In April 2004, EPIC received documents from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in response to a FOIA request. One document (pdf) stated that Northwest Airlines "gave the FBI one year's [passenger] data on 6000 CDs."

To learn the extent of the government's passenger data collection scheme, and to determine whether passenger data might have been collected for purposes of developing the controversial second-generation Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II), EPIC ultimately sent four expedited Freedom of Information Act requests to TSA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seeking information on passenger data disclosure from any airline since September 11, 2001, as well as records relating to Acxiom, Torch Concepts, and SRS Technologies (the primary contractor in the Defense Department project).

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Ridiculous lawsuits

I'm currently writing a book about decision making in the realm of the development, deployment and regulation of technology but I'm thinking about writing another one about ridiculous lawsuits in a similar context. This is partly because we've all heard stories, like this one, about silly cases that should never get anywhere near a busy courtroom, let alone resulted in that daft outcome.

What may seem funny to the casual external observer, however, is rarely a funny experience for the parties on the receiving end, who have had the misfortune of making a mistake in crossing the path of serial, sometimes even unknowing (I doubt Fed Ex management knew about this in advance) or opportunistic litigants with smart or equally opportunistic lawyers. The other problem is that lawyers live in a completely different world to the rest of us - a world where it seems a perfectly reasonable thing to do to protect the interests of your client by threatening to sue someone for making furniture out of their cardboard boxes.

A variation on a theme is the vengeful litigant intent on extracting their requisite pound of flesh from someone who has outwitted them, as is the case with school district pressing charges against teenagers who bypassed the filters on school issued laptops. It wasn't difficult, since the admin password was apparently taped on the back of all the machines. Some of the children involved have been expelled from school and we don't know the details of what each individual did with their filter-free freedoms but trying to ensure they all end up with a criminal record is not sensible course of action. Even the police chief caught up in expediting the felony charges doesn't seem to think the kids did anything malicious, (though that could be journalistic interpretation to fit in with the rest of the piece). Whatever happens in the end, very few people will come out of this one unscathed. The parents of the 13 charged have set up a website on the case. They don't want the " kids to get off without appropriate consequences" but the looming consequences are disproportionate.

Thanks to Michael Geist for the links to both stories.

LSE respond to government criticism on ID cards

The LSE have produced a 30 page response to the government's criticisms of their Identity Project report. This press release gives a brief overview,

The Home Office document contains some interesting elements and we welcome the fact that the project team are engaging more fully with critics. But we are disappointed that the HO response contains substantial material errors and misrepresentation of fact. It also sets out rebuttals that cite material which is not relevant to the points in question. On a number of critical issues, HO's response rebuts aspects of the LSE report without providing alternative data (for example, on assumptions relating to population data, card loss and damage rates and the card replacement rates due to change in personal circumstances).

It is equally disappointing that the Home Office has chosen to disregard the vast majority of the LSE report. Comprehensive sections on identity fraud, policing, crime, national security, counter-terrorism, discrimination, international obligations and the UK IT environment have been ignored. Even within the two narrow areas that were chosen for rebuttal (cost projections and the alternative blueprint) 80 per cent of the relevant parts of the LSE report - some 25,000 words of analysis of costings and alternative approaches - are not commented upon.

FFII site takedown

From the excellent EDRI-gram, "The long running legal fight between the German software company Nutzwerk (Leipzig) and the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII, best known for its extensive lobby against software patents) has culminated in the takedown of the website on 1 August 2005."

The latest EDRI-gram also brings news of the long running Napster case in Norway regarding whether linking to sites with copyright infringing material could constitute making the material available to the public and hence bring on liability.

"The Court states that it is beyond doubt that making a web-address known on a website does not constitute a 'making available to the public', regardless of whether or not the link refers to a web-address containing legally or illegally published material. Whether a web-address is expressed on the Internet or in a newspaper is immaterial."

Another IT system hiccough

The Telegraph is reporting that the government's " much-vaunted "prison without bars" system of electronic tags for sex offenders has suffered severe technical problems" and the Home Office press office, not surprisingly, "strongly advised against any publicity." Naturally the news leaked.

Real ID mess

Anita Ramasastry of the University of Washington School of Law thinks the Real ID Act in the US is a real mess. Having been voted down as a substantive piece of legislation last year it was then tacked on spending plans for the war on terror and the tsunami relief and sneaked through without debate. Ramasastry says it will be a nightmare for state governments who have to fund the technical infrastruture, without any extra financial support from the federal government.

"No wonder, then, that more than 600 organizations have expressed concern over the Real ID Act. Organizations such as the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the American Library Association the Association for Computing Machinery, the National Council of State Legislatures, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the National Governors Association are among them."

Here in the UK, the government's original plans to fund the ID cards through fees have taken a hammering as people have begun to realise how much they will cost and support for the scheme drops off. So the Home Office have promised to cap the fee in an attempt to ease concerns, though I doubt Gordon Brown and the treasury will be keen on that idea. £5billion to £19 billion is going to have to be found somewhere and with fuel prices shooting through the roof I suspect the prospect of forking out hard earned income to help build a large public IT white elephant will become an even less attractive prospect for many.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

IT robber barons

Andrew Cringely on IT as an offensive weapon in business.

Intelligence Officer Investigated over Spy Blog contact

A field intelligence officer is apparently being investigated over contacts with Spy Blog.

2nd amendment for the digital era

John Robert Behrman has a thought provoking treatise over at William Heath's Ideal Government blog. He's a supporter of the US contitutional right to bear arms. Now though he is a fan of guns, it's his extension of this right to cryptography in the digital context that's really interesting:

"In the digital era each and every one of us needs to secure his or her personal identity with strong, trusted cryptographic resources, yes, including military-grade technology now scheduled on the Department of Commerce “Munitions List”.

We need to do this …

(a) To protect ourselves and our property from identity theft; …

(b) To assert our individual civil and property rights, without being preyed upon by oppressive government or piratical business agents; …

(c) To add value in all manner of professional and commercial transactions that depend on authentic credentials and reputation; and, …

(d) Yes, to uphold our largely private civic order and complement other, mostly public means, of collective security that, together, make the criminals, insurgents, or terrorists in our midst conspicuous, unsafe, and unbalanced -- not you or me.

Political extremists love to present the public and private, the individual and collective, order and disorder in stark, radical, and simple rhetorical, even Manichean, terms, as if we have to choose one over the other. Those are false choices offered by those as would steal your and my freedom of action. Such people love to claim “everything has changed!” meaning they want to repudiate something we might hold dear."

He goes on to attack the Texas incantation of the Help America Vote intitiative, which he describes as the latest excuse to build a " giant, centralized, database for near real-time political-economic surveillance of everybody in this country, everywhere, all the time."

Read the whole thing. I nearly didn't because I intially thought it was a "gun-nut" (as Berhman describes another friend) sounding off. You may or may not agree with him but he'll make you stop and think.

Thrash day at Politech

Declan McCullagh is having a thrash day at Politech, following his recent concerns about the rules allowing law enforcement authorities access to peoples' rubbish without a warrant. He's pointed out at an interesting story at Willamette Weekly Online. The local paper, following the police chief's, the mayor's and the district attorney's support for the right to search a suspect's rubbish without judicial oversight, decided to do a little rubbish trawling themselves. Reporters from the paper went through the garbage left by the roadside, by each of these three officials, for refuse collection. The public prosecutor was the only one of the three who saw the funny side. The mayor's threatening to sue.

"Each, in his or her own way, has endorsed the notion that you abandon your privacy when you set your trash out on the curb. So we figured they wouldn't mind too much if we took a peek at theirs.

Boy, were we wrong.

Perched in his office on the 15th floor of the Justice Center, Chief Kroeker seemed perfectly comfortable with the idea of trash as public property.

"Things inside your house are to be guarded," he told WW. "Those that are in the trash are open for trash men and pickers and--and police. And so it's not a matter of privacy anymore."

Then we spread some highlights from our haul on the table in front of him.

"This is very cheap," he blurted out...

If the chief got overheated, the mayor went nuclear. When we confessed that we had swiped her recycling, she summoned us to her chambers.

"She wants you to bring the trash--and bring the name of your attorney," said her press secretary, Sarah Bott...

...her office issued a prepared statement. "I consider Willamette Week's actions in this matter to be potentially illegal and absolutely unscrupulous and reprehensible," it read. "I will consider all my legal options in response to their actions."

In contrast, DA Mike Schrunk was almost playful when we owned up to nosing through his kitchen scraps. "Do I have to pay for this week's garbage collection?" he joked...

It's worth emphasizing that our junkaeological dig unearthed no whiff of scandal...

But if three moral, upstanding, public-spirited citizens were each chewing their nails about the secrets we might have stumbled on, how the hell should the rest of us be feeling?"

Gateway Review - three quarters may fail

Under a Freedom of Information Act request the UK Government have provided the list of 271 major IT projects that have been subject to the Office of Government Commerce Gateway Review process, revealing that more than three quarters are not progressing according to plans.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Cracking the Books

From Donna

"Princeton University, intellectual home of Edward Felten and Alex Halderman, has evidently begun to experiment with DRM'd textbooks."

The crackdown

The crackdown from yesterday's Observer. A report on the prime minister's latest round of anti-terrorism proposals.

The Shout on Ciscogate part 4

Jennifer Granick has posted her final episode of the story about a young researcher getting sued by Cisco and his former employer for revealing security vunerabilities with Cisco products.

A Society Drunk on Technology

Frank Work, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta, has been blogging on the Identity Trail.

We sometimes lack the willingness to think and analyze before we act. In a world where we become impatient if it takes more than a second to download a two thousand page document, where we expect an immediate reply to our email, where we expect someone to answer their cellphone wherever, whenever we call, where we demand instant credit and immediate gratification of our wants, we tend to look for the immediate fix to problems. And, we usually adopt the techno-fix, so strongly do we believe in the power of technology. But the techno-fix, the quick-fix, is not always the best fix: there is, after all, the law of unintended consequences. There is an old Luddite saying: “Act in haste, repent at leisure.”

He's right of course: We sometimes lack the willingness to think and analyze before we act.

The Rubbish and 1984

Declan McCullagh is concerned that it is legal for the law enforcement authorities to be able to trawl through people's rubbish for evidence. Justice James C. Nelson in an opinion confirming such activity as legal is also concerned:

"In short, I know that my personal information is recorded in databases, servers, hard drives and file cabinets all over the world. I know that these portals to the most intimate details of my life are restricted only by the degree of sophistication and goodwill or malevolence of the person, institution, corporation or government that wants access to my data.

I also know that much of my life can be reconstructed from the contents of my garbage can.

I don't like living in Orwell's 1984; but I do. And, absent the next extinction event or civil libertarians taking charge of the government (the former being more likely than the latter), the best we can do is try to keep Sam and the sub-Sams on a short leash."

Declan includes Justice Nelson's concurring opinion from the relevant recent case at the end of his article.