Thursday, October 25, 2007

6 minutes from a Total Surveillance Society

The ACLU's Surveillance Society Clock set Jeff Jonas to thinking what series of plausible events might lead up to total surveillance.

He came up with:

"11:54pm – All cell phone are GPS enabled...

11:55pm – RFID chips everywhere...

11:56pm – Biometric user authentication is added to cell phones...

11:57pm – Cell phones become RFID readers...

11:58pm – Cash is replaced by cell phone debit...

11:59pm – All persons carry cell phones at all times...

12:00am – Welcome to the Total Surveillance Society...

Now what?

Well, if this is the future, then I think here are some key considerations:

1. Under what condition and authority can an actor (i.e., a person, an organization, a government) look at what data, and when?

2. How will we know when an actor is breaking the rules?

3. Will oversight and accountability be easier in a total surveillance society?

4. How do we make sure that access to extraordinary knowledge is not limited to a few? And, how do we ensure that data about us is knowable by us?

5. For the few people that resist being plugging into the matrix – will they be less employable, less trustworthy, or suspected of hiding criminal activity?

With all this in mind, it seems ever more important that the technology community better engage the privacy community – there simply is not enough conversation going on between these two camps – and time is of the essence. [See: Responsible Innovation: Staying Engaged with the Privacy Community]

Why are more people not working on privacy-preserving technology e.g., anonymization, immutable audit, selective revelation, data masking, data expiration and destruction services, etc. – and more importantly why are not more organizations starting to take advantage of these emerging privacy-enhancing alternatives?"

Gore for Vice President?

Jonathan Zittrain thinks Gore should run for vice-president again.

Lessig interview on corruption in politics

There's a really interesting interview with Larry Lessig on Danish TV. He's talking about his 'new' project to tackle corruption in politics.

"In America it is because so much of politics is guided by money."

"Our government cannot understand basic facts when strong interests have an interest in its misunderstanding."

Larry's first hour long lecture on the subject is available at his blog.

Max Planck Society End Springer Deal Over Pricing

From the Library Journal:

"The Max Planck Society (MPS), a major German research organization, issued a strongly worded statement this week to announce it was cancelling access to Springer's online collection of journals over pricing. The cancellation will take effect as of December 31, 2007."

Why Grand Theft Auto Should Be Taught in Schools

Henry Jenkins in interviewing David Hutchison has been thinking about why Grand Theft Auto should be taught in schools.

"I want to introduce you to David Hutchison, the author of a recently released book, Playing to Learn: Video Games in the Classroom. Hutchison's book promises over 100 game activities appropriate for classroom use, a selection that spans across academic subjects (language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, history, geography, health & physical education, drama, music, visual arts, computers, and business) and grade levels (including both elementary and high school).

What motivated you to write this book? Why do you think teachers should be incorporating games more fully into their classroom activities?

I wrote this book in part because I enjoy playing video games myself and I am always looking for synergies between my play time and my work time as a teacher educator and university professor... I believe that video games should be referenced in the K-12 classroom for a variety of reasons. First, video games can provide teachers with an effective instructional "hook" since so many students are gamers in their out-of-school lives. Second, many (younger) teachers are also gamers. Through gaming, they have cultivated a knowledge base which can serve them well as part of their pedagogical toolset...

It strikes me as nonsensical that so many students and their teachers may be going home at night to play the same games, but then returning to the school the next day with no intention of ever sharing their mutual passion for video games.

I would also say that from a cultural point of view, I see some video games as harbingers of the future. They play with the "world" - past, present, and future - in ways that are impractical (sometimes impossible) in the real world. Some games purposefully bend the laws of physics in exploring new virtual gameplay ideas. Multiplayer video games (and the Internet more generally) experiment with new forms of social organization that go beyond our everyday ways of living.

All of this strikes me as pedagogically interesting and worth studying in K-12 schools...

I would say that my book is more focused on traditional teaching and learning techniques in which the video game is studied as a cultural artifact, rather than "lived through" as an embodied pedagogical experience. Activities which ask students to write a video game review or analyze the leaderboard statistics for a driving game in math class, for example, are fairly approachable by most teachers. They essentially treat the video game as a manipulative that can be utilized as a pedagogical tool by teachers in a wide variety of subject areas...

In writing the book, I set it as a goal for myself to incorporate the Grand Theft Auto series into at least one activity. (The "Hot Coffee" controversy was brewing around me as I began writing the book :) The GTA activity I chose tasks students with creating their own kid-friendly open-world game that doesn't include all the adult content we normally associate with games in this franchise.

I also wanted to encourage teachers to deal with controversial ideas related to video games. There are contributed discussion articles in the book that address debates related to video games and violence, video game addiction, gender bias in video games, and health and video games.

My sense is that the book could have been roundly criticized - and rightly so - if I had chosen not to deal with the many criticisms made of video games - for example, that they produce obese layabouts with no social contacts in the real world who are prone to violence and live in a fantasy world 

Discussing the above stereotypes in class is worthwhile in my view. Studying these stereotypes by having students conduct research to test their veracity is even better. There are also activities in the book that aim to help students effect personal lifestyle changes related to their video game playing habits, such as paying close attention to their posture and reducing the amount of time they spend playing video games each week."

It's nice to see that some people out there do get technology in education.

Pangloss on TV links shutdown

Lilian has some sharp commentary on the TV Links shutdown.

"An interesting if rather sketchy report from The Guardian that UK-based TV Links site has been closed down after a raid by a combination of Trading Standards officials, Gloucester police and FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft). The question is what were the grounds? ...

The case is interesting because TV Links site is an ordinary website giving links to content which constituted (in some cases) infringing copies of copyright works eg Dr Who, Buffy et al. The site is not a host nor is it obviously "inciting" or "inducing" users to infringe as say Kazaa/Grokster did. It could be argued in fact that it does little more than what Google routinely does - makes links available to infringing copies and leaves the user to decide what to do next."

Aaron Swartz on the Open Library Project

Aaron Swartz gave a talk at the Berkman Center this week on the Open Library Project. he also did a Q&A session.

"Q.You are working on creating the Open Library, an online database that contains all the world's books for anyone to view. What kind of significance does this project have in our age?

I think this is one of the grand challenges for the Internet era. The vast majority of our cultural legacy is in books -- books are where you go when you have a great idea you want to share, a great story you want to publish, a classic piece of art -- it's hard to understate their importance. But in an era where few people venture beyond a search engine when doing research, making these resources more available for Internet users a crucial challenge...

Q.Do you think publishers are threatened by the Open Library concept as record labels are with free music file sharing?

Not at all; the publishers have been extremely helpful. We're only scanning books that are out-of-copyright, which is a small minority of what's being published. For the other books, we're working with publishers and libraries to make them available in every way we know how: through purchasing online or in a local bookstore, picking up a copy in a library or through digital interlibrary loan, etc. We're helping publishers get the word out about their books...

Q.How is the Open Library project different from Google's project to make an online book archive?

Google is scanning a lot of books but they're not doing much more than just putting them online. We want to do much more than that and become the hub for information about books. We let users come to our site and add more information to their favorite books, find the books in various places, browser and sort by categories, and so on.

FBI concerned at 'evidence' extracted by torture

The LA Times reported earlier in week that:

"Current and former FBI officials said ... CIA techniques resulted in false confessions that were obtained illegally.

By mid-2002, several former agents and senior bureau officials said, they had begun complaining that the CIA-run interrogation program amounted to torture and was going to create significant problems down the road -- particularly if the Bush administration was ever forced to allow the Al Qaeda suspects to face their accusers in court.

Some went to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, according to the former bureau officials. They said Mueller pulled many of the agents back from playing even a supporting role in the interrogations to avoid exposing them to legal jeopardy, in the belief that White House and Justice Department opinions authorizing the coercive techniques might be overturned.

"Those guys were using techniques that we didn't even want to be in the room for," one senior federal law enforcement official said. "The CIA determined they were going to torture people, and we made the decision not to be involved."

A senior FBI official who since has retired said he also complained about the lack of usable evidence and admissible statements being gathered."

Marty Lederman has some other news on the US approach to torture front, relating to a letter that 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have written to President Bush's latest nominee for Attorney General, Judge Mukasey, "daring him to continue to express agnosticism on the question of the legality of waterboarding." No Republican signed the letter.

The dead celebrities bill

Dead celebrities in California can now breathe easier, according to the NYT, in the knowledge that Arnie has signed a dead celebrities bill enabling the estates of those celebrities who died before 1985 to benefit from exploiting their publicity rights. Up until now only the estates of those who died in 1985 or later could do so.

"The notion that celebrities could even confer the right to cash in on their personas post mortem was in dispute until 1984, when the California Legislature passed a bill that allowed stars to leave such rights in their wills. In May of this year, however, two federal courts interpreted the bill with regard to the Monroe estate in a way that excluded her and other celebrities who died before the Legislature’s action.

In two federal cases heard this spring in the Central District of California and the Southern District of New York, judges ruled that only those who died after 1985 could bequeath rights of publicity. The effect was to make the Monroe estate unable to prevent the unauthorized exploitation of her image and likeness, whether on a calendar, a T-shirt or a coffee mug.

With some nudging from the Screen Actors Guild and the Monroe estate, the California Senate drafted clarifying legislation. Senate Bill No. 771, affectionately known as the Dead Celebrities Bill, passed without objection and was signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger earlier this month."

Marilyn Monroe left her worldly goods to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg, who died in 1982. The main beneficiary of Strasberg's will was his second wife, someone with no connection to Monroe. Now 25 years after her husband's death and 45 years after Monroe's, however, she (and presumably her heirs on her death) is entitled to several million dollars in revenues generated every year by Marylin Monroe memorabilia. It must be a bit like winning the lottery.

It all kinda reminds me of the closing paragraph in Theodore Steinberg's, Slide Mountain: Or The Folly of Owning Nature,

"Even Henry David Thoreau, nature lover though he was, could not help dreaming about owning a slice of the earth he loved so much... Then he ventured on before his fingers got "burned by actual possession." As he wrote, "Man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone." By Thoreau's standards the modern American landscape is a very poor one indeed."

Brown turns civil libertarian

Why do I find it really hard to believe that Gordon Brown's speech on liberty, as reported by the Beeb, is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. He has apparently called for a Bill of Rights (probably an excuse to abolish the Human Rights Act - a Conservative idea), a review focused on the protection and extension of the Freedom of Information Act to the private sector, a review of the effective prohibition of protest in Parliament Square and a review of the sharing of personal data in the public and private sectors. He even praised Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, who has been a calm and rational critic of the government's vast extension of the surveillance state and their ID card plans in particular.

I suspect the clue is in the word "review". The reviews which come up with government friendly answers will be widely proclaimed in the media and those which can't be appropriately spun will be quietly lost or declared to contain commercially sensitive or national security threatening information.

Microsoft snatch Facebook deal from Google

Microsoft has won the battle with Google and Yahoo to secure a small stake in Facebook.

"The two companies said on Wednesday that Microsoft would pay $240 million for a 1.6 percent stake in Facebook. The investment values Facebook, which is three and a half years old and will bring in about $150 million in revenue this year, at $15 billion...

The astronomical value placed on Facebook is evidence that Microsoft executives believed they could not afford to lose out on the deal. Google appears to be building a dominant position in the race to serve advertisements online. Fearing it might lose control over the next generation of computer users, Microsoft has been trying to keep up with and in some cases block Google’s moves, even if that effort is costly."

Italians aim to censor bloggers

I thought I had reported the story about Italian politicians attempts to censor critical bloggers recently but apparently not as it doesn't appear to be included in the past couple of weeks entries here. The Times had a report on the story yesterday. The Italian minister for justice, Clemente Mastella, and various colleagues in government have been getting a bit hot under the collar at criticism directed at them e.g. by (literally translated this apparently means 'I hate you Mastellatiodo'). They've encouraged the Italian police to encourage Google to take that one off-line but now in addition they are planning a law which would require all bloggers to effectively be registered and approved by the state. The author of the Times piece seems to think:

"We’ve been down this road countless times. Panicky government officials, whether they are in Harare, Beijing or Rome (yes, this is the second time it’s been proposed here), pronounce a brand new muzzle for the internet, and clever netizens simply find a way around it."

I doubt the Chinese blogger doing ten years in jail after being fingered by Yahoo would encourage such complacency. Gilmore's mantra that the Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it was never entirely accurate but it is significantly less so these days with broadband network architectures, massive data retention and the choke points that the ISPs always were.

Fingerprints come to German passports

From the latest EDRI-Gram: Fingerprints in passports: the German population in a risky experiment

"On 1 November 2007, registration offices throughout Germany will begin collecting fingerprints from all citizens wishing to travel. Two years after the storage of a facial image on an RFID chip has been introduced, the project of full biometric registration of the whole population continues. Germany's Chaos Computer Club (CCC) points out once more that the ePassport has risks and side-effects, which particularly affect senior citizens.

Many older people will have problems giving fingerprints. Experience as well as international and German studies show that considerably more than 10% of all senior citizens must expect to have no recordable fingerprints. This will inevitably expose them to discrimination through tightened inspections and longer delays. People working intensely with their hands will face the same disadvantages.

The CCC advises that only a few days are left in which passports without fingerprint registration can be applied for in German registration offices. Even people whose passport is still valid can apply for a new passport, thus evading the German authorities' data collection mania until the Federal Constitutional Court rules on the compatibility of the new measures with the German constitution.

Even according to the German government, there is no measurable gain in security through biometric passports. This is proved by the written answer to a parliamentary question. As CCC speaker Dirk Engling says, "the introduction of this risky technology seems to be motivated mainly by the commercial interests of a few current and former members of the government - this should really be a case for the Corruptions Perceptions Index of Transparency International".

The extent of the threat posed by biometric data on RFID chips is illustrated by none other than Jörg Ziercke, president of the Federal Criminal Office. Despite all assurances by his "experts" that the biometric data is "safe", he wears his own biometric passport in a protective cover to shield it against radio waves. The Federal Foreign Office has also shown its distrust of the security promises of the Interior Ministry: German diplomats will receive passports without RFID chips due to the "higher threat levels" they face.

Fingerprints in passports: the German population become guinea pigs in a risky experiment (only in German, 16.10.2007)

German government confirms that biometric identification documents are pointless (only in German, 20.06.2007)

(Contribution by EDRI-member Chaos Computer Club - Germany, translation by Sebastian Lisken, FoeBuD e.V.) "

Cory from copyright to privacy

Check out Chris Vallance's interview with Cory Doctorow, who is as convincing as ever on a rnage of digital rights issues from copyright to privacy. Thanks to Suw at ORG for the pointer.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Is ACTA the New WIPO?

It seems that the US, EU, Japan South Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, and Canada and the IP industries have had enough of WIPO and pesky consumer organisations and development agendas etc. and have decided to get their tailored international IP laws through a new international forum which doesn't facilitate awkward questions...

Michael Geist wonders Is ACTA the New WIPO?

"It has been readily apparent for a number of months now that "counterfeiting and piracy" is the new focal point for intellectual property policy reform. With global conferences, legislative hearings in national capitals, and new anti-counterfeiting coalitions, copyright lobby groups have jumped on the anti-counterfeiting bandwagon. While the claims regularly focus on health and safety risks or suggestions that organized crime or terrorist groups benefit from counterfeiting, the reality is that the policy prescription typically includes a range of issues that have little to do with those issues. These include anti-circumvention legislation, higher damages, and an increased use of public tax dollars to provide protection for private commercial interests.

The strategy has proven remarkably effective. Despite the absence of any independent data (indeed, there is evidence that some numbers have been fabricated), politicians are easily convinced that action is needed since the lobbyists often come armed with compelling props (exploded batteries, unsafe toys) and no one actually supports counterfeiting. Of course, the issue is not whether you are for or against counterfeiting, but rather whether the proposed reforms have anything to do with health and safety or significant economic concerns...

This treaty could ultimately prove bigger than WIPO - without the constraints of consensus building, developing countries, and civil society groups, the ACTA could further reshape the IP landscape with tougher enforcement, stronger penalties, and a gradual eradication of the copyright and trademark balance."

This is potentially quite seriously bad news and something to be monitored closely.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Microsoft reach a deal with the EU

Pamela Jones seems to think that Microsoft's lawyers have pulled the wool over the EU Competition Commissioner's eyes again.

Research libraries join Open Content Alliance rather than Google book

The NYT is reporting that:

"Several major research libraries have rebuffed offers from Google and Microsoft to scan their books into computer databases, saying they are put off by restrictions these companies want to place on the new digital collections.

Robert Spencer for The New York Times

Bernard Margolis, president of The Boston Public Library.

The research libraries, including a large consortium in the Boston area, are instead signing on with the Open Content Alliance, a nonprofit effort aimed at making their materials broadly available.

Libraries that agree to work with Google must agree to a set of terms, which include making the material unavailable to other commercial search services. Microsoft places a similar restriction on the books it converts to electronic form. The Open Content Alliance, by contrast, is making the material available to any search service."

International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) Shut Down

Also from the ORG list: the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) has been shut down due to legal threats by lawyers acting on behalf of Universal Edition. The student who has maintained the site says:

"Dear International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) Contributors, Users and Supporters:

I really tried.

What follows in this open letter is what I hope will be an accurate reflection of my tumultuous thoughts in the past few days.

On Saturday October 13, 2007, I received a second Cease and Desist letter from Universal Edition. At first I thought this letter would be similar in content to the first Cease and Desist letter I received in August. However, after lengthy discussions with very knowledgeable lawyers and supporters, I became painfully aware of the fact that I, a normal college student, has neither the energy nor the money necessary to deal with this issue in any other way than to agree with the cease and desist, and take down the entire site. I cannot apologize enough to all IMSLP contributors, who have done so much for IMSLP in the last two years.

I also understand very well that the cease and desist letter does not call for a take down of the entire site, but, as I said above, I very unfortunately simply do not have the energy or money necessary to implement the terms in the cease and desist in any other way. Prior to this cease and desist I was already overloaded with server maintenance and the implementation of new features (as some of you know). I do not intend this to be an excuse in any way, but I do hope that IMSLP users and contributors may understand, even if very slightly. At the same time, I again apologize profusely to all IMSLP contributors that it has come down to this.

Another major reason behind me taking the server down is the fact, which I have been made painfully aware of in the last few days, that I can no longer support IMSLP adequately. Rather than limping along and having to take down the site later on, I believe it is best to take the site down right now, so as to not waste the further efforts of IMSLP contributors.

I have to thank here the great efforts on the part of two outstanding university law teams with regard to this case, and the very helpful advice and assistance that I have received pro bono. I cannot imagine what I would be like right now without their legal and moral understanding and support...

So what happens now?

I will keep the IMSLP forums online for as long as there is interest. You may access it at

I will release the IMSLP Mediawiki extensions to the public in the hopes that other people will find them useful. I will also prepare a copy of the IMSLP Mediawiki database (i.e. the text on the site), with private information removed, and send it to anyone who requests. The IMSLP extensions are licensed under the GPL, and the IMSLP Mediawiki database is licensed under the GFDL. This letter itself is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.

In addition, I will be willing to help and transfer the five IMSLP domain names to any organization who would like to continue IMSLP in some form or other; please contact me via if you are interested.

If you have any questions or comments for me regarding IMSLP or this situation, please send an e-mail to, and I will try to answer all of them. You may also use the forums if you believe that the question can be answered by other IMSLP contributors. Translations of this letter are very much welcome; you may post them on the forums, and I will move them to the main site. "

Slashdot has picked up the story. I'm sure there must be some a2k-inclined organisation which would be prepared to host the bulk of the public domain materials from the site. Let's hope so anyway.

Update: Michael Geist and Howard Knopf have a thing or two to say about the case. Here's Michael:

"The International Music Score Library Project was a quiet Canadian success story. Using wiki technologies, it emerged over the past two years as a leading source of public domain music scores, hosting thousands of scores uploaded by a community of students, teachers, and others in the music community. The site was very careful about copyright - only those works in the public domain (as many readers will know, public domain in Canada is life of the author plus an additional 50 years) were hosted on Canadian servers and the site was responsive to complaints about possible infringements.

On Friday, the site was taken down. Universal Edition AG, an Austrian publisher, retained a Toronto law firm to send a cease and desist letter to the Canadian-based site claiming that the site was infringing the copyright of various composers. It appears that the issue was not that posting the works in Canada infringed copyright but rather that some of the works were not yet in the public domain in Europe, where the copyright term runs for an additional 20 years at life of the author plus 70 years. As is so often the case, a labour of love for a large, non-profit community was wiped out with a single legal demand letter.

In this particular case, UE demanded that the site use IP addresses to filter out non-Canadian users, arguing that failing to do so infringes both European and Canadian copyright law. It is hard to see how this is true given that the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that sites such as IMSLP are entitled to presume that they are being used in a lawful manner and therefore would not rise to the level of authorizing infringement. The site was operating lawfully in Canada and there is no positive obligation in the law to block out non-Canadians.

As for a European infringement, if UE is correct, then the public domain becomes an offline concept, since posting works online would immediately result in the longest single copyright term applying on a global basis. That can't possibly be right. Canada has chosen a copyright term that complies with its international obligations and attempts to import longer terms - as is the case here - should not only be rejected but treated as copyright misuse.

Update: The lawyer for Universal Edition AG has contacted me to advise that some of the works on ISMLP allegedly infringed Canadian copyright as being within life of the author plus 50 years. It is not clear, however, whether UE actually provided the site owner with a list of those works (the posted letter certainly does not include any such list). "

Becta report Microsoft to OFT

Again from Glyn via ORG: Becta reports Microsoft to OFT

Update: Another false dawn for open source in UK schools?
Becta refers Microsoft to the Office of Fair Trading

TV-Links website owner arrested

Thanks to Glyn at ORG for the pointer to this: TV Links shut down for linking

The guy that runs the TV links website has been arrested after FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft) encouraged the Gloucestershire police to get involved.
"Sites such as TV Links contribute to and profit from copyright infringement by identifying, posting, organising, and indexing links to infringing content found on the internet that users can then view on demand by visiting these illegal sites," said a spokesman for Fact.
Jack Scofield wonders why they didn't go after the folks actually hosting the copyright infringing material.
"Is the message that it's less criminal to host illegal content on YouTube than it is to to link to it from a site such as TV Links? Or is it just that FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft) and the police won't tackle anybody with enough high-powered lawyers to fight back? Is The New Freedom blog correct in saying: "They just have so much money that they have become above the law."

Of course, there is a difference between building a site around links to content that could be presumed to lack copyright clearance and linking unintentionally from a site set up for a different purpose. However, I'm not a lawyer so I don't know how significant this is. (Is shoplifting OK if you have a proper job but criminal if you're unemployed and starving?)...

Indeed, if linking is illegal, we might as well shut down the Internet, because there is no practical way anybody can guarantee the legality of what's on the end of any link. Even if you could guarantee it at the time of linking, there's no guarantee it would still be legal less than a second later, or for the rest of time."
Of course, like the Communications Decency act in the US, the ECommerce directive in the EU protects services that host illegal content when they don't have "actual knowledge" of the presence of that specific material on their servers. So the onus is on the content industry to let them know and then they are obliged to take the files down or face m'learned friends for the complainant.

More electronic surveillance of children

The good folks at ARCH have pointed me to another crazy child surveillance story.

"From the Times this morning:

Children are being tracked by micro-chips embedded in their uniforms in a trial at a secondary school.

The devices are used to monitor pupils’ movements and register their arrival in class on the teacher’s computer. Supply teachers can also be alerted if a student is likely to misbehave.

The chip connects with teachers’ computers to show a photograph of the pupil, data about academic performance and whether he or she is in the correct classroom."

It's also worth pointing out on this score that ARCH have created an eCAF (electronic Common Assessment Framework) Alert page to as a central point of contact for practitioners to share their experiences and/or concerns about eCAF as it gets rolled out" across children's services and agencies.

It has become clear that there is no independent, confidential route for practitioners’ views and observations to be collected and analysed.

This site aims to provide such a mechanism for anyone working in the children's sector who has any comment to make about eCAF implementation and use.

If you would like to send us your views on eCAF, you can

leave us a message by clicking here

email us at

phone us on 020 8558 9317"