Friday, May 05, 2006

Reid take over at the Home Office

Home Secretary Charles Clarke has been sacked by Tony Blair and John Reid will replace him at the Home Office.

Amendments to L&R Bill

Spy blog is not impressed at the 10 pages of amendments the government are proposing on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, popularly known as the Abolish Parliament Bill.

"These Amendments do not allay our concerns about the Constitutional dangers which this Bill presents:
  • There is still no explcit limitation, written into the text of the Bill via these Amendments, which would prevent the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act being used to modify itself.
  • It will still apply to any Act of Parliament including the Human Rights Act, Habeas Corpus, the Civil Contingencies Act, the various Terrorism Acts etc. i.e. there is still no list of exempted Acts of Parliament as was suggested by the Opposition during the Committee stage.
  • It will still apply to any rule of the Common Law.
  • The amendments do not change the the totally inadequate "consultation" arrangements proposed in the Bill - i.e. the Minister can hand pick exactly who he chooses to consult with, and then ignore their suggestions, on a whim. There is no requirement even to follow the Cabinet Office's own Code on 12 week public consultations.

The only alleged "safeguards" are a strengthened role for some Parliamentary Committees."

The Broadcast Flags Ride again

The RIAA and MPAA efforts to breathe life into their broadcast flag idea have come to fruition again.

"The story so far: the broadcast flags, both video and audio, have been wandering the halls of Congress, looking to smuggle themselves into law, like tramps looking for an empty boxcar. For nearly a year, neither the MPAA and RIAA have been able to find them a ride. The MPAA failed to introduce the broadcast flag language into an appropriations bill, or the reconciliation bill, nor could they sneak it into last year's urgent digital television transition bills. The RIAA's audio flag has been rebuffed at every turn.

But early this week, Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) introduced a long awaited 125-page draft reform of the Communications Act to the Senate Commerce Committee last week, and both flags found their lift. With telecom reform likely, it's critical that you take action now to stop these dangerous proposals from coming along for the ride...

Senator Stevens, who earlier this year seemed to understand the everyday difficulties caused by DRM, has nevertheless introduced the flag language as an attempt:

to strike a balance between the needs of broadcasters and the desires of the consumer electronics industry not to have the federal government pick technology winners and losers.

Mandating DRM on all future TVs, radios, and every device that can record, transmit, or display them is not "striking a balance." It's a betrayal of tomorrow's innovators and the public that would otherwise stand to benefit from their efforts."

WIPO discussions on xCasting Treaty

James Love has another excellent essay on the WIPO broadcasting treaty discussions at On the Commons.

" The US government sends negotiators to Geneva, to cook up a new treaty, that would create legal protections that the Congress has never accepted, considered, or even discussed.

There is no way Yahoo (the main proponent of the webcasting treaty provisions) would ever get something like webcasting through the US Congress. How can we let a handful of WIPO negotiators create this new IP right in a major international treaty...

All week long the US government, together with the European Commission and some other countries, has opposed efforts by developing countries to exclude webcasting, or to include in the treaty language that would ensure that countries could control anticompetitive practices, protect access to knowledge, and provide greater lee-way in terms of excerptions for libraries, education, access for disabled persons, and other public interests."

Thursday, May 04, 2006

TSA Puffery

Michael Froomkin has had a run in with an ill informed TSA security man at Miami airport.

"There is something spookily appropriate about having an airport security officer lie to you in order to try to violate your civil rights, even in a relatively small way, when you are en route to a convention about technology and freedom.

This morning, as I was going through a deserted security screening post at MIA, in terminal C, just as I was about to put my luggage through the X-ray, the TSA guy working the outside of security, who had already passed me through, decided to invite back in order that I could step through the "puffer machine," more formally known as an EDT (explosive detection portal) or ETP (Explosives Trace Portal). I wasn't marked for a security screening, and I suspect nothing more was going on than the guy was bored and wanted something to do. Knowing that I have the right to refuse (at the cost of being searched by hand), and having plenty of time until my flight, I told him that I didn't like the look of the machine, and I would rather not. This is where the trouble started.

Rather than warn me that the consequence of failing to consent would be a search, which would have been a legally correct reply, or even decide that I would have to be searched whether I wanted to be or not, which might have been legal too, the guy told me that I had no choice, that I had to go through the machine. I told him that I knew for a fact that this was not true, that I had a choice. He insisted. I asked him to get his supervisor over. He did. I explained the problem..."

WIPO Carves up the Net and the Broadcast Spectrum

James Love has a great essay at the Huffington Post about the politics at WIPO over the broadcasting treaty.

"Don't bother reading this unless the words "new intellectual property right" and "the Internet" seem important when put together, because it is a twisted and complicated story. Even the key players are struggling to figure out what is going on. But like a lot of twisted and complicated things, it is important.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is a specialized UN agency, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. This week it is holding a contentious five-day negotiation on a new Treaty, the purpose of which is to provide a new "protection" for "broadcasting and webcasting organizations."

What does this mean? WIPO is debating whether or not to create a new intellectual property right in information that is distributed over television, radio, cable television, or through any wired or wireless computer network, including the Internet. This is something different from copyright. Indeed, it is designed to benefit people who cannot get a copyright, because a work belongs to someone else (the person or group that created it), or because the information is in the public domain. The new right is not a "copyright," but a "broadcaster" or "webcaster" right. It is a bad idea when applied to television or radio, but a disaster if applied to the Internet."

Everyone Wants to 'Own' Your PC

Bruce Schneier at Wired:

"When technology serves its owners, it is liberating. When it is designed to serve others, over the owner's objection, it is oppressive. There's a battle raging on your computer right now -- one that pits you against worms and viruses, Trojans, spyware, automatic update features and digital rights management technologies. It's the battle to determine who owns your computer...

There are all sorts of interests vying for control of your computer. There are media companies that want to control what you can do with the music and videos they sell you. There are companies that use software as a conduit to collect marketing information, deliver advertising or do whatever it is their real owners require. And there are software companies that are trying to make money by pleasing not only their customers, but other companies they ally themselves with. All these companies want to own your computer...

There is an inherent insecurity to technologies that try to own people's computers: They allow individuals other than the computers' legitimate owners to enforce policy on those machines. These systems invite attackers to assume the role of the third party and turn a user's device against him...

Just because computers were a liberating force in the past doesn't mean they will be in the future. There is enormous political and economic power behind the idea that you shouldn't truly own your computer or your software, despite having paid for it."

President Bush and the Constitution

Jack Balkin has again been ruminating on President Bush's attitudes to the separation of powers inherent in the US Constitution.

"Bush has already adopted President Nixon's view that if the President authorizes something, it isn't illegal, despite what the text of the law says. Now Bush has taken the converse position that if the President doesn't agree with legislation, even legislation that he signs, it isn't law. Together, these two attitudes are deeply corrosive of the Rule of Law and move us down the path to a dictatorial conception of Presidential power-- that is, the conception that the President on his own may dictate what is and what is not law, rather than the President merely being the person in constitutional system entrusted with faithful implementation and enforcement of the law."

New A2K blog

There's an interesting new A2K blog at UN-MERIT.

Airline passenger tracking and security

This Guardian article nicely demonstrates the security and privacy problems with airline passenger tracking systems.

"This is the story of a piece of paper no bigger than a credit card, thrown away in a dustbin on the Heathrow Express to Paddington station...

The traveller's name was Mark Broer. I know this because the paper - actually a flimsy piece of card - was a discarded British Airways boarding-pass stub, the small section of the pass displaying your name and seat number...

It said Broer had flown from Brussels to London on March 15 at 7.10am on BA flight 389 in seat 03C. It also told me he was a "Gold" standard passenger and gave me his frequent-flyer number. I picked up the stub, mindful of a conversation I had had with a computer security expert two months earlier, and put it in my pocket.

If the expert was right, this stub would enable me to access Broer's personal information, including his passport number, date of birth and nationality. It would provide the building blocks for stealing his identity, ruining his future travel plans - and even allow me to fake his passport.

It would also serve as the perfect tool for demonstrating the chaotic collection, storage and security of personal information gathered as a result of America's near-fanatical desire to collect data on travellers flying to the US - and raise serious questions about the sort of problems we can expect when ID cards are introduced in 2008...

Clinton administration had decided it was time to devise a security system that would weed out potential terrorists before they boarded a flight. This was called Capps, the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening System.

It was a prosaic, relatively unambitious idea at first. For example, in highly simplistic terms, if someone bought a one-way ticket, paid in cash and checked in no baggage, they would be flagged up as an individual who had no intention of arriving or of going home. A bomber, perhaps...

In 2003, one of the pioneers of the system, speaking anonymously, told me that the project, by now called Capps II, was being designed to designate travellers as green, amber or red risks. Green would be an individual with no criminal record - a US citizen, perhaps, who had a steady job and a settled home, was a frequent flyer and so on. Amber would be someone who had not provided enough information to confirm all of this and who might be stopped at US Immigration and asked to provide clearer proof of ID. Red would be someone who might be linked to an ever-growing list of suspected terrorists - or someone whose name matched such a suspect."

It's a nice summary of the story of airline passenger screening, CAPPS, CAPPS II, Secure Flight, APIS and the security problems associated with them. (There is a slight error in the reference to ID cards which says the government will be collecting 40 pieces of personal data when someone registers for the card. I believe it will be 59). Well worth a read. Thanks to HJ Affleck at FIPR for the link.

Update: From Wired, Feds' Watch List Eats Its Own
"What do you say about an airline screening system that tends to mistake government employees and U.S. servicemen for foreign terrorists?

Newly released government documents show that even having a high-level security clearance won't keep you off the Transportation Security Administration's Kafkaesque terrorist watch list, where you'll suffer missed flights and bureaucratic nightmares.

According to logs from the TSA's call center from late 2004 -- which black out the names of individuals to protect their privacy -- the watch list has snagged:

* A State Department diplomat who protested that "I fly 100,00 miles a year and am tired of getting hassled at Dulles airport -- and airports worldwide -- because my name apparently closely resembles that of a terrorist suspect."

* A person with an Energy Department security clearance.

* An 82-year-old veteran who says he's never even had a traffic ticket.

* A technical director at a science and technology company who has been working with the Pentagon on chemical and biological weapons defense.

* A U.S. Navy officer who has been enlisted since 1984.

* A high-ranking government employee with a better-than-top-secret clearance who is also a U.S. Army Reserve major.

* A federal employee traveling on government business who says the watch list matching "has resulted in ridiculous delays at the airports, despite my travel order, federal ID and even my federal passport."

* A high-level civil servant at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

* An active-duty Army officer who had served four combat tours (including one in Afghanistan) and who holds a top-secret clearance.

* A retired U.S. Army officer and antiterrorism/force-protection officer with expertise on weapons of mass destruction who was snared when he was put back on active-duty status while flying on a ticket paid for by the Army.

* A former Pentagon employee and current security-cleared U.S. Postal Service contractor.

Also held up was a Continental Airlines flight-crew member traveling as a passenger, who complained to TSA, "If I am safe enough to work on a plane then I should be fine to be a passenger sleeping.""

EU memo: correlation between innovation and patent numbers

A memo issued by the EU Commission this week says

"Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) at the heart of the Commission’s job and growth initiative

There is a very close link between IPR and the competitiveness of the EU economy. A proper, affordable IPR system is important to foster innovation...

The European Innovation Scoreboard 2005 provides empirical evidence that a lower level of patenting to a large extent accounts for the difference in innovation performance between EU countries and to the innovation gap between Europe, the US and Japan."

If you dig further into the figures, however, it is difficult to get a clear indication of how they are measuring innovation. It seems to be some sort of composite indicator which is taken as the average of ten other indicators five of which are related to something called "Application" and five of which are associated with intellectual property:

Under "application" the indicators listed are
1 Employment in high-tech services (% of total workforce)
2 Exports of high technology products as a share of total exports
3 Sales of new-to-market products (% of total turnover)
4 Sales of new-to-firm not new-to-market products (% of total turnover)
5 Employment in medium-high and high-tech manufacturing (% of total workforce)

Under "Intellectual property" the indicators listed are
1 EPO patents per million population
2 USPTO patents per million population
3 Triadic patent families per million population
4 New community trademarks per million population
5 New community designs per million population

It's hardly surprising that there is a correlation between numbers of patents and innovation, if the way you measure innovation is by counting the number of patents. Something else that is slightly suspicious about the data is that IBM don't feature at all in the table listing the top 25 applicants to the European Patent Office, measured by the number of patent applcations filed.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Lazy and deceitful Clarke and Blair

Rachel from North London has published a follow up to her powerful critique of Charles Clarke and Tony Blair last week.

"In 2003 Blair caused a panic amongst mandarins at the 70,000-staffed Home Office Empire when he blithely promised to cut asylum applications by half in seven months in a BBC interview. Nice populist soundbite, Tony, but where was the consultation and the think-through? Nonetheless, the Leader had spoken, and officials were instructed by a caught-on-the-hop Blunkett to meet the target by September, (even though Blunkett was worried that it was ''undeliverable'').

What to do? Erm. Quick, tell immigration officers not to visit prisons to serve deportatation orders as they were wont to do on a weekly basis previously. Why? Because those pesky ex-prisoners will only go and claim asylum, tsk, and that'll bugger the fugures for Tony. Grab broom, lift carpet, sweep, and relax...

Blair's, and Blunkett's on-the-hoof playing to the gallery about deportation and asylum, and a Home Office seemingly more concerned with making the right noises and hitting the right targets than the reality of protecting the public, and managing dangerous offenders have worsened the mess...

Mr Clarke got it half right when he attacked last week, decrying media coverage as''Lazy and Deceitful!'' - but it's the Government's obsession with grabbing the right coverage, rather than crafting the right policy that should be criticised, not journalists who rightly query his tough-sounding but ill-considered initiatives.

It's lazy, and it's deceitful, and it's time for Mr. Clarke, and for Mr. Blair to go. This shocking affair plays into the hands of racists, and bigots, and we all deserve better than this endemic focus on quick-fixes and column inches and Tony's latest populist wheeze rather than sensible, strategic, consultative policy-implementation to protect the people politicians are appointed to serve."

Home Office can't even keep track of its own webpages

The Home Office can't even keep track of its own webpages.

Living in fear of the state

Vicki Woods at the Telegraph is desparate for Tony Blair to leave Downing street.

"I want him out because he is changing my (free) country from a place I placidly love, admire and am grateful to have been born in, to a state I am beginning to fear. I don't really care what Tony does or doesn't do to the blessed schools 'n' hospitals any more. Don't even care about his difficulties with ermine or ministerial fly-buttons.

What I care about is that he is taking away my freedom to be who I am. The ID card lunacy alone should have the free citizens of Britain pouring into the streets à la poll tax riots. The state database is only one of Tony's assaults on freedom, but it's the biggest, the stupidest and the most illiberal.

He - Tony - will never, ever be stopped by some snotty youth 10 days out of Hendon Police College and asked to "identify himself to the authorities". You and I will.

"No one should fear correct identification," said David Blunkett. Oh, yes? Via a biometric card linked to a leaky government database? We should fear it mightily. It won't be "correct", any more than any other hastily got up and cockamamie government IT programme. And its purpose is not to enable free citizens to "prove" who they are, but to enable the Government to know who they are, where they are, what they are doing and what they have done."

Unified theory of MySpace and YouTube

Paul Boutin has conceived A Grand Unified Theory of YouTube and MySpace

"YouTube and MySpace are runaway hits because they combine two attributes rarely found together in tech products. They're easy to use, and they don't tell you what to do."

That's it. Easy to use and don't tell you what to do. It's not rocket science but it is oh so rare.

Update: The Register is reporting on some recent quiet changes to the MySpace terms and conditions of use. New terms:

"By displaying or publishing ("posting") any Content, messages, text, files, images, photos, video, sounds, profiles, works of authorship, or any other materials (collectively, "Content") on or through the Services, you hereby grant to, a non-exclusive, fully-paid and royalty-free, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense through unlimited levels of sublicensees) to use, copy, modify, adapt, translate, publicly perform, publicly display, store, reproduce, transmit, and distribute such Content on and through the Services. This license will terminate at the time you remove such Content from the Services. Notwithstanding the foregoing, a back-up or residual copy of the Content posted by you may remain on the servers after you have removed the Content from the Services, and retains the rights to those copies."

Felten the DMCA and re-writing history

Ed Felten is irritated that Solveig Singleton of the Progress and Freedom Foundation, had the nerve to characterise the story of the DMCA threats he received a few years ago as having a "happy ending."

"To call the case of my colleagues and me a “happy ending” takes some real chutzpah. Let’s catalog the happy consequences of our case. One person lost his job, and another nearly did. Countless hours of pro bono lawyer time were consumed. Anonymous donors gave up large amounts of money to support our defense. I lost at least months of my professional life, and other colleagues did too. And after all this, the ending was that we were able to publish our work — something which, before the DMCA, we would have been able to do with no trouble at all.

In the end, yes, we were happy — in the same way one is happy to recover from food poisoning. Which is not really an argument in favor of food poisoning."

He won't be surprised, though. That is the way that IP lobbyists work - pretending or implying a well respected critic is now on your side is a classic underhand tactic of persuasion long used by the PR industry. Don't be surpised to hear the story of Ed Felten's "happy ending" repeated ad nauseum from now on.

RIM face another patent suit on the Blackberry

RIM are facing another patent lawsuit over their Blackberry. This time the plaintiff, Visto, is not pursuing a settlement, unlike NTP. They want to shut the Blackberry service down.

WIPO Broadcasting treaty

In spite of the concerns of the majority of WIPO member states, the troublesome webcasting and anti-circumvention clauses remain in the draft WIPO broadcasting treaty. IP Justice have a very clear list of ten reasons why the treaty, as currently drafted, is a bad idea. You really have to admit that IP lobbyists are very good at their job - even when their position is demonstrably irrational they still seem to have the power to hypnotise policymakers.

Robin Gross from IP Justice is attending the latest round of discussions on the treaty at WIPO this week. Early developments in the discussions, according to Cory, are not looking promising.