Saturday, March 10, 2007

DOJ conclude FBI abused PATRIOT Act powers

An audit by the US Justice Department has concluded that the FBI has improperly and illegally used powers granted under the PATRIOT Act to gather information on US citizens. Various politicians are jumping on the FBI criticism bandwagon but they really can't be surprised that when they pass draconian laws, stoke up irrational fear and put unreasonable pressure on agents at the coalface that the laws get stretched the way they apparently have been in these cases.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Open letter to Steve Jobs on DRM

The Defective by Design folks have drafted an open letter to Steve Jobs on DRM and are looking for signatories. Sample:

"To many observers your blog pledge looks like a way to reduce pressure on Apple from these regulators, and head off calls from the industry to license FairPLay to other distributors.

It has been three weeks now since you published your pledge to drop DRM, and there have been many responses from commentators who have outlined actions you could take to back up your words. The fact that you have not taken any action leads us to ask the question: How genuine is your pledge?"

Jobs doesn't take kindly to this kind of criticism, so sady I can't see him reading much past that part of the letter.

Dissecting Microsoft Slams At Google As Copyright Infringer

Danny Sullivan has dissected Microsoft's attack on Google as a monster copyright leech.

"Rubin talked a lot about Microsoft's publisher program, the way it gets copyrighted content into its system:

The second source is our Publisher program, under which we receive books still under copyright from publishers with their express permission, either in digital form directly from the publisher, or scanned from hard copy. Participating publishers have access to an online site – or dashboard – that enables them to manage their publications on Live Search Books. They can choose the amount of text that a reader may preview, create click-to-buy links next to their books, edit metadata, and so on. Several major publishers have signed on to the Publisher Program.

Google has a long-standing similar program, and that's downplayed. Agreements with "several" publishers for "certain" copyrighted books as Rubin describes is a far cry from hundreds (I think perhaps thousands) of publishers that voluntarily have contributed thousands of books to the Google program. But I think a picture is worth a thousands words:

Google Booth At Frankfurth Book Fair

That's the Google both at the Frankfurt Book Fair that I attended last September. I believe the fair is the largest gathering of book publishers in the world. There was massive building after massive building filled with publishers.

Notice the picket signs? Notice the angry publishers storming the Google booth? Publishers are upset with Google, yes. But some of those same publishers ironically are also partners in the program. And plenty are partners in the program without being angry at Google. Google is actively involved in the publishing community and has far more contributions than Rubin's speech suggests...


Overall, I have to say it's disappointing seeing Microsoft come out on an attack stance rather than be positive about what it is doing. Google deserves slams, and I wish they'd change to an opt-in policy for copyrighted books. But for me, with perspective, Microsoft comes across as someone trying to play catch-up and willing to be negative to do it. I don't like that in political campaigns, and I guess I don't like it any more in the search wars. But most important, it's a dangerous game to play. The more Microsoft paints itself as some type of pure protector of copyright, the harder it will fall as people find examples where it fails to meet expectations."

The piece is nicely forensic and worth a read.

Martin's new book

I've invested in a copy of Martin's new book, Virtual Learning Environments: Using, Choosing and Developing Your VLE, and it's just arrived today. I smiled when I read the dedication:

"To John Naughton, from whom I learnt the only career advice worth following - do interesting things."

By coincidence the Lithuanian translation of John's book has just been released.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Children of 11 to be finger printed

From the Sunday Times: Children of 11 to be finger printed

"CHILDREN aged 11 to 16 are to have their fingerprints taken and stored on a secret database, internal Whitehall documents reveal.

The leaked Home Office plans show that the mass fingerprinting will start in 2010, with a batch of 295,000 youngsters who apply for passports.

The Home Office expects 545,000 children aged 11 and over to have their prints taken in 2011, with the figure settling at an annual 495,000 from 2014. Their fingerprints will be held on a database also used by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate to store the fingerprints of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers.

The plans are outlined in a series of “restricted” documents circulating among officials in the Identity and Passport Service. They form part of the programme for the introduction of new biometric passports and ID cards. "

Maybe it is time for civil rights campaigners to tap into the 'think of the children' rhetoric?