Friday, May 19, 2006
Update: IPKat says they have, sadly, settled out of court.
"Motivating the illiberal policy of Blairishness is a huge and poisonous fallacy. It is that the first duty of government is the security of the people. This is a dangerous untruth. If it really were true then we should all be locked into a fortress behind the thickest walls of steel and concrete, and kept still and quiet in the dark, so that we can come to no harm...
Yes, the government should be active and do its best to safeguard the populace, but consistently with the truth that life is risky, and that freedoms are more precious than safety.
Mr Blair should be fiercely protecting our liberties against the intended effect - the intended effect, note - of the assaults of fanatics whose conception of the good society is Taliban Afghanistan. The intended effect is to make us lock doors and hide away.
On 7/7 Mr Blair said "these atrocities will not force us to change our way of life." He then proceeded to change our way of life by making us all numbered conscripts in society instead of free citizens - for that is what ID cards do. Instead of protecting our liberties he is busy giving them up in the vain, in fact ridiculous, hope that doing so will keep us safe. It will not: to put 60 million citizens under permanent police surveillance to catch 60 or even 600 disgusting criminal lunatics is both a crime against freedom and an utterly futile act.
Does Mr Blair hope that what he thinks of as the Britishness of the British will make them accept this nonsense meekly? I suppose one has to accept that if he is right on this point, we deserve him."
Not a Blair fan.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Essential reading for anyone interested in issues like ID cards or the surveillance state.
"There is a range of databases holding information about children and young people, and a corresponding range of legislation that allows this information to be shared between education, social care, health, youth justice and law enforcement agencies
Many systems are concerned with a ‘predictive’ agenda – identifying children from an early age whom agencies believe may commit criminal offences in the future...
This predictive agenda has now been extended to identify children who have what are described as ‘low-level’ welfare problems...
A new in-depth personal assessment tool (the Common Assessment Framework) that captures information about the child, and the competence of his/her parents, has been designed to be used by any agency if a practitioner believes the child needs more services than that particular agency can provide...
Social Services are moving over to an electronic record system (ESCR) to be developed along the lines of the NHS information system, and planned links between the two are under discussion.
A central index of all children from birth is currently being established to hold each child’s basic details, plus contact information for each practitioner working with the child... Consideration is being given to linking this Children’s Index to the National Identity Register in order to create a single national population register.
Although the Children’s Index was initially promoted as a child protection measure in the wake of the Laming Inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie... It is envisaged that everyone - child or adult - will eventually have a central file that acts as a ‘hub’ for government services.
The green paper ‘Every Child Matters’ changed the definition of the phrase ‘at risk’. Until now, when applied to a child, this has been taken to mean at risk of 'significant harm' from abuse or neglect. It now means at risk of social exclusion, of missing out on services or education, or of committing crime...
The legislation that establishes the Children’s Index allows information to be collected and shared without the knowledge or consent of child and parents...
There is considerable confusion around the issue of consent to the sharing of information between agencies...
it will be up to each area ‘Local Safeguarding Children Board’ to develop its own information-sharing agreement.
At the moment, pilots are being conducted in order to decide what data should be put on the Children’s Index."
Many thanks to the folks at ARCH who have gone to considerable trouble recently to outline the situation with these databases in an accessible way. Hopefully their efforts will be widely read and understood.
Typically the tabloid press, notably the Daily Mail according to the Independent story, maliciously spun the story recently with large headlines accusing Ms Alabi of being a "health tourist." Rules brought in by the government last year meant that the young mother was not eligible to go on the transplant list because she was effectively classified as a health tourist not entitled to NHS treatment. Last minute appeals to the High Court were denied and though there was no gaurantee that she would have got a transplant even if she had been on the list, she was denied that possibility.
Ms Alabi had regularly travelled to the UK to be with her partner, Abiodun Abe, who has indefinite leave to stay here. She never overstayed her visa terms, until this time when her inability to travel due to her illness meant she fell into the illegal immigrant category, complicating the challenge in the High Court.
My sympathies go out to Ms Alabi's family.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Also when he blows a hole in the government's defence claiming they're not actually listening in to everyone's calls just collecting data about the calls by demonstrating how much personal information that apparently limited amount of data could potentially disclose.
Now the music labels are suing XM Satellite Radio "over its new iPod-like device that can store up to 50 hours of music", so the wheel has, sort of, come full circle again. This has been on the cards ever since digital radio came on the scene. I'm surprised it has taken them so long really. This time, though, rather than seeking an injunction banning the sales of these devices, the labels are merely looking for a slice of the revenues.
"XM Satellite said Tuesday it will fight the lawsuit and accused the labels of using the courts as leverage during business negotiations.
``These are legal devices that allow consumers to listen to and record radio just as the law has allowed for decades,'' the company said in a statement. ``The music labels are trying to stifle innovation, limit consumer choice and roll back consumers' rights to record content for their personal use.''...
``Yahoo!, Rhapsody, iTunes and Napster all have licenses,'' said Mitch Bainwol, chief executive for the Recording Industry Association of America. ``There's no reason XM shouldn't as well.''"
Clever bit of PR by Bainwol, though he does neglect to mention that the radio company already pay performance licences.
Update: the EFF have more details.
The signs are that the manager is going to take a cautious approach which would be a shame. I don't think I could take the tension of the semi final second leg again! (not to mention last year's FA Cup final). It worked but bred a level of anxiety amongst the players that killed any hope of them producing the open, flowing, artistic football they are so capable of.
Fabregas, Henry, Ljungberg, Hleb, Gilberto and Reyes/Pires in full flow, with a cameo for Berkamp, against the might of the Catalans, could be quite something to watch. I just hope they do themselves justice.
"My hon. friend is absolutely correct. One of the many problems that we face is that at no stage of the whole process — through investigation, arrest, inquiry, interview, trial, sentencing, consideration, custodial sentence and release — as far as I have been able to determine in the limited time that has been available to me, is there any legal requirement on anyone to be responsible for discovering a nationality, or indeed, on anyone else, to volunteer their nationality. That is a not inconsiderable problem when it comes to dealing with foreign nationals. As my hon. friend says, this is one of the areas in which identity cards would be a huge boon."
John Lettice can't contain himself
"Police throughout the UK will no doubt be relieved to hear from the Home Secretary that they are in point of fact under no obligation to find out who it is they've just nicked, but we feel sure that, perversely, they will continue to see doing so as one of their top ten tasks after an arrest. Breaks the day up for them, we suppose...
The problem here is not that the system doesn't know who they've got and who they should be monitoring or deporting on release, because the system does know this - it's that the system can't even share the information adequately with itself.
The system, up until the day before it releases the prisoner without considering deporting them, even has the subject's address. Might we propose some kind of prisoner identity register as a kind of alpha test prior to the really big cockup, er, national register?"
Read the whole piece. It's hilarious.
"An order under this Part may not make provision amending or repealing any provision of—
(a) this Part; or(b) the Human Rights Act 1998 (c. 42)."
So there was to be no bypassing of the parliamentary process to change the Human Rights Act. Now the clause has been dropped, though, once the Leg. & Reg. bill passes, the HRA can be changed by ministerial order or the order of any other approved official.
Now Mr Blair is spoiling for another - can't lose - public relations battle, we can't have unreasonable barriers like parliament and the law getting in the way of demonstrating how he can be tough on the HRA and tough on the causes of the HRA, can we?
[PS Marina Hyde is quite funny about Mr Blair apparently shedding a tear in the rose garden when telling Charles Clarke he was sacking him recently
"Now, I do not dispute the import of this moment. But if I found my lachrymose self taking refuge in the shrubbery to hide my anguish at having to lose an overpromoted, incompetent bully like Charles Clarke, I feel sure I would suddenly, in a moment quite blinding in its profundity, be struck with the sense that it would not be long before my political (and probably psychological) number was up, and I would be shunted off to the great borrowed villa in the sky."]
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Extraordinary Rendition: complicity and its consequences
and he was highly critical of the UK and US governments. Tony Blair in particular, the dissection of whom is the focus of most of the speech, gets analytically vilified.
"we do know that the Prime Minister has a somewhat semi-detached relationship to the rule of law. He was willing to bend the rules in respect of the use of force in Iraq, and to manipulate the presentation of the legal advice he had been given. This past week he has not hesitated to attack the judgment of an English court (in the case of the hijacked Afghan plane) in a manner and with a tone that raises serious constitutional concerns.
20. The Prime MinisterÂ?s discontent with the law and the judges, and his less than fulsome commitment to international human rights standards, dates back to well before 9/11. One example suffices to illustrate, the case of Youseff v The Home Office. Although Mr Justice FieldÂ?s judgment was given in July 2004, all the material facts date back to the spring and summer of 1999. Even then the Prime Minister was looking to find ways to get around the rules of international human rights law which limited the circumstances in which Britain could return Hani Youssef and three other Egyptians to their homeland...
The way around the problem would be to obtain written assurances from the Egyptian government for the safety and well-being of Youseff. The Foreign Office sought assurances on nine grounds...
the Egyptian Government declined to give the assurances...
In response to the FCO'?s view that the Egyptian assurances were inadequate the Prime Minister wrote across the top of this letter: "This isn'?t good enough. I don'?t believe we shld (sic) be doing this. Speak to me." The contempt for human rights concerns is clear."
When the Home Office then decided the risk of torture was too high and not to deport the four, the PM's Private Secretary writes:
"[T]he Prime Minister is not content simply to accept that we have no option but to release the four individuals. He believes that we should use whatever assurances the Egyptians are willing to offer, to build a case to initiate the deportation procedure and to take our chance in the courts. If the courts rule that the assurances we have are inadequate, then at least it would be the courts, not the government, who would be responsible for releasing the four from detention...
23. The Prime Minister'?s direct intervention indicates the rather direct and personal involvement of No 10 in the affairs of different government departments. It suggests that the overriding objective is not to act consistently with applicable rules, or ensure that fundamental human rights of individuals are protected, but to gauge and then pander to public opinion: hence the strategy of shifting the blame for Youssef'?s release away from government and onto the courts...
the Prime Minister'?s concern with his legacy is driven by the fear that he is fundamentally misunderstood, and that those who seek to challenge him are out of touch... Yet it is the Prime Minister who displays these characteristics... he says that his approach reflects "?a genuine desire to protect our way of life from those who would destroy it". But our "?way of life"? includes our system of values, and our system of values includes a commitment to the rule of law. Returning foreigners to near-certain torture is not consistent with our "?way of life"? or our values. Aiding and abetting the transfer of British nationals and residents to Guantanamo - if that is established to have occurred -? would not be consistent with our "?way of life"? or our values. Turning a blind eye to extraordinary rendition - if that is established -? falls within the same category. The Prime Minister's logic leads inexorably in one direction only. "?Whose civil liberties?"?, he asks. Everyone'?s, we should respond."
"The kids’ eyes fixed right away on the trucks; Filipino kids don’t have many toys, and they prize them in a way most American kids can’t They made gestures to join my son in play, which he did not welcome. He became agitated, and concocted a rule, as he tends to do in such situations. Those toys were only for kids who were three, he said, by which he meant himself. He said this over and over. The kids didn’t understand the words, but they got the drift. They retreated, bruised...
the look on those kids’ faces made me writhe inside. Would they henceforth think of Americans as people with a lot of toys they would not share? While it isn’t fair to load that on my son, it comes awfully close to my own concerns about the nation of which I am a part. Josh and I went into another room and had a chat. I tried to articulate for him, once again, why he needs to share. We made a new rule – okay, I made the rule. If he can’t share it then he can’t keep it. What he won’t share we will give away, to that child or to someone else. Then I started reflecting on something I have observed about life in America: how riches often make people less inclined to share rather than more so; and how the version of childhood we have invented – more precisely, that the corporate market has invented – might contribute to this...
The Philippines are a very poor nation, materially. The U.S. is very rich. So what is the Bush Administration's priority in the Philippines? Enforcement of intellectual property laws, so that poor Filipinos will have to pay more -- often to us -- for cd's, auto parts, and most egregiously, prescription drugs...
This proclivity is not new in human nature. But America’s corporate economy has cultivated it, especially the greed side; and as I suggested up top, it begins with childhood, and kids.
In the Philippines childhood is still a commons, defined by the play children share rather than by the things they have. You see few toys in the homes, certainly not the clutter you find often in America. You see instead things that kids make for themselves – tops made from nails in pieces of wood, for example, and slingshots carved from tree branches with slings from old inner tubes. On the farm we saw kids using these to fell beetle nuts from trees...
these games were in shared childhood space – common space. They make childhood a place of abundance for kids who, in many cases, have little besides the clothes they wear. Sharing is natural because the sharing, in the form of play, is the substance of the wealth. In America, by contrast, kids inhabit a culture of possession and enclosure, and feel chronic lack despite – or perhaps, because of -- all the stuff they have...
To reduce good to a commodity by definition limits it and makes it scarce. A market, economists tell us, is a mechanism for allocating scarce resources. The corollary, which they don’t often mention, is that in order to be so allocated, the resource in question must first be made scarce. Childhood must be reduced to something material and finite. Play must become a thing – that is, something that can be fought over, instead of participated in."
Monday, May 15, 2006
"The high court unanimously reversed an appeals court ruling in favor of MercExchange, a developer of e-commerce technology that sued eBay for patent infringement, saying an appeals court had failed to apply the proper legal test in deciding whether MercExchange should be granted an injunction barring eBay from using its technology.
However, the justices also rejected a crucial argument advanced by eBay, and embraced by a U.S. District Court that handled the case, that companies lose some of their right to an injunction if they have agreed to license out their technology or are not using it to make a product themselves."
Scotusblog has more details.
Update: Randy Picker at Chicago Law School offers his perspective. The court was split on some of the key underlying issues but "The simple version is that the Court unanimously holds, in an opinion by Justice Thomas, that the “well-established principles of equity” for granting a permanent injunction apply to disputes arising under the Patent Act. The Court won’t “lightly” imply exceptions to general equitable practice, and after wrestling briefly with a couple of sections in the Patent Act, concludes that the standard off-the-rack rules for permanent injunctions should apply to patent cases. Neither lower court did that, so reversed and remanded to the district court for a first crack at the problem."
"The UK Home Office's reputation may be in tatters domestically, but authoritarians around the world seem to take heart and want to emulate its ID card policy. The issues around single-identifier projects are global: risk, cost, business case, phoney pretexts. Above all a lack of engagement between those who understand the technology and those who feel the need to be seen to be decisive. The dominant analogy while I was out there is railway gauges, as in why use different identifiers which dont interoperate - surely we should get together and use the same gauge...
Deep, long-lasting political decisions about technical architectures are being by people who can only talk about it indirectly via metaphor and analogy: are we standardising railway gauges here, or is this a Swiss Army knife? Should we put all our eggs in one basket? The very cards themselves, call them ID cards, Entitlementment Cards, Access Cards, other-euphemism cards, are just a metaphor for the real issue - the panoptical-database state."
"There are dozens of excellent reasons that books should quickly be made part of the emerging Web. But so far they have not been, at least not in great numbers. And there is only one reason: the hegemony of the copy...
In preindustrial times, exact copies of a work were rare for a simple reason: it was much easier to make your own version of a creation than to duplicate someone else's exactly. The amount of energy and attention needed to copy a scroll exactly, word for word, or to replicate a painting stroke by stroke exceeded the cost of paraphrasing it in your own style. So most works were altered, and often improved, by the borrower before they were passed on. Fairy tales evolved mythic depth as many different authors worked on them and as they migrated from spoken tales to other media (theater, music, painting). This system worked well for audiences and performers, but the only way for most creators to earn a living from their works was through the support of patrons.
That ancient economics of creation was overturned at the dawn of the industrial age by the technologies of mass production. Suddenly, the cost of duplication was lower than the cost of appropriation. With the advent of the printing press, it was now cheaper to print thousands of exact copies of a manuscript than to alter one by hand. Copy makers could profit more than creators. This imbalance led to the technology of copyright, which established a new order. Copyright bestowed upon the creator of a work a temporary monopoly — for 14 years, in the United States — over any copies of the work. The idea was to encourage authors and artists to create yet more works that could be cheaply copied and thus fill the culture with public works.Not coincidentally, public libraries first began to flourish with the advent of cheap copies. Before the industrial age, libraries were primarily the property of the wealthy elite. With mass production, every small town could afford to put duplicates of the greatest works of humanity on wooden shelves in the village square. Mass access to public-library books inspired scholarship, reviewing and education, activities exempted in part from the monopoly of copyright in the United States because they moved creative works toward the public commons sooner, weaving them into the fabric of common culture while still remaining under the author's copyright. These are now known as "fair uses."
This wonderful balance was undone by good intentions. The first was a new copyright law passed by Congress in 1976. According to the new law, creators no longer had to register or renew copyright; the simple act of creating something bestowed it with instant and automatic rights. By default, each new work was born under private ownership rather than in the public commons. At first, this reversal seemed to serve the culture of creation well. All works that could be copied gained instant and deep ownership, and artists and authors were happy. But the 1976 law, and various revisions and extensions that followed it, made it extremely difficult to move a work into the public commons, where human creations naturally belong and were originally intended to reside. As more intellectual property became owned by corporations rather than by individuals, those corporations successfully lobbied Congress to keep extending the once-brief protection enabled by copyright in order to prevent works from returning to the public domain. With constant nudging, Congress moved the expiration date from 14 years to 28 to 42 and then to 56.
While corporations and legislators were moving the goal posts back, technology was accelerating forward. In Internet time, even 14 years is a long time for a monopoly; a monopoly that lasts a human lifetime is essentially an eternity. So when Congress voted in 1998 to extend copyright an additional 70 years beyond the life span of a creator — to a point where it could not possibly serve its original purpose as an incentive to keep that creator working — it was obvious to all that copyright now existed primarily to protect a threatened business model. And because Congress at the same time tacked a 20-year extension onto all existing copyrights, nothing — no published creative works of any type — will fall out of protection and return to the public domain until 2019. Almost everything created today will not return to the commons until the next century. Thus the stream of shared material that anyone can improve (think "A Thousand and One Nights" or "Amazing Grace" or "Beauty and the Beast") will largely dry up.
In the world of books, the indefinite extension of copyright has had a perverse effect. It has created a vast collection of works that have been abandoned by publishers, a continent of books left permanently in the dark. In most cases, the original publisher simply doesn't find it profitable to keep these books in print. In other cases, the publishing company doesn't know whether it even owns the work, since author contracts in the past were not as explicit as they are now. The size of this abandoned library is shocking: about 75 percent of all books in the world's libraries are orphaned. Only about 15 percent of all books are in the public domain. A luckier 10 percent are still in print. The rest, the bulk of our universal library, is dark...
Having searchable works is good for culture. It is so good, in fact, that we can now state a new covenant: Copyrights must be counterbalanced by copyduties. In exchange for public protection of a work's copies (what we call copyright), a creator has an obligation to allow that work to be searched. No search, no copyright. As a song, movie, novel or poem is searched, the potential connections it radiates seep into society in a much deeper way than the simple publication of a duplicated copy ever could.
We see this effect most clearly in science. Science is on a long-term campaign to bring all knowledge in the world into one vast, interconnected, footnoted, peer-reviewed web of facts. Independent facts, even those that make sense in their own world, are of little value to science. (The pseudo- and parasciences are nothing less, in fact, than small pools of knowledge that are not connected to the large network of science.) In this way, every new observation or bit of data brought into the web of science enhances the value of all other data points. In science, there is a natural duty to make what is known searchable. No one argues that scientists should be paid when someone finds or duplicates their results. Instead, we have devised other ways to compensate them for their vital work. They are rewarded for the degree that their work is cited, shared, linked and connected in their publications, which they do not own. They are financed with extremely short-term (20-year) patent monopolies for their ideas, short enough to truly inspire them to invent more, sooner. To a large degree, they make their living by giving away copies of their intellectual property in one fashion or another...
The reign of the copy is no match for the bias of technology. All new works will be born digital, and they will flow into the universal library as you might add more words to a long story. The great continent of orphan works, the 25 million older books born analog and caught between the law and users, will be scanned. Whether this vast mountain of dark books is scanned by Google, the Library of Congress, the Chinese or by readers themselves, it will be scanned well before its legal status is resolved simply because technology makes it so easy to do and so valuable when done. In the clash between the conventions of the book and the protocols of the screen, the screen will prevail. On this screen, now visible to one billion people on earth, the technology of search will transform isolated books into the universal library of all human knowledge."
It's a long piece for a newspaper but worth the effort.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
"if you told a movie industry executive you used BitTorrent, she or he would make the sign of the cross and flee, pausing only to collect cloves of garlic and phone a lawyer...
So you can see why the news that Warner Brothers has apparently seen the light makes your columnist sit up. Could this herald the Beginning of Wisdom in the movie industry? Having inspected their plans, I'm not so sure...
For example, the Torrented movies are priced the same as a shrink-wrapped DVD, yet encumbered with robust copy protection that allows them to be viewed only on the computer to which they are downloaded...
Trust Hollywood, as one Silicon Valley wag put it, 'to "embrace" peer-to-peer distribution and all the economies and efficiencies that go along with it and then ruin it by using it to peddle an inferior and overpriced product'. Nothing changes."
"The press is having it both ways: it must be illogical in one set of circumstances to condemn the credulity of intelligence officers while in another to attack them for not acting on every piece of information received, however peripheral it seems. Having sat through the inquiry into David Kelly's death and read Lord's Hutton's report with disbelief, I am disposed to a sceptical line on government reports.
But the two accounts of the 7 July bombings and the intelligence failure do not have the glare of whitewash, nor the slightest glimmer of it. They seem to provide an accurate picture of what happened and the difficulties faced by the security services and Special Branch. What Siddique Khan and his three companions planned was essentially unknowable. MI5 might conceivably have got closer to the bombers, but, given the enormous number of leads it has to follow up and its finite resources, it would have been extremely lucky to have frustrated this attack as well as three subsequent plots, all of which are now sub judice"