Saturday, December 15, 2007

Mark Thomas wants Gordon Brown jailed for demonstrating in Parliament Square

Mark Thomas wants help to put Gordon Brown in jail, for breaking his own law against demonstrating in Partliament Square. In fairness, though, I guess it was his predecessor who insisted on rushing the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act through parliament in 2005 because he was fed up with Brian Haw shouting at him through a megaphone from Parliament Square (See Taking Liberties Since 1997, starting at page 36 for a nice description of the story).

"If MPs pass ridiculous laws to limit our freedom, they should be forced to abide by them too

Mark Thomas
Thursday December 13, 2007
The Guardian

Rarely do first lines have the potential to cost thousands of pounds (outside of libel), and rarely do I get to write words quite like those that follow; so forgive me an over-dramatic opening sentence, but yesterday lawyers acting for me started an attempt to get Gordon Brown into the dock.

With lawyers and police working on the ongoing Donorgate inquiries, Downing Street can be quite crowded if you are trying to bring a legal action. Nonetheless, my lawyers delivered a letter to the director of public prosecutions yesterday afternoon calling for an urgent investigation into allegations that the prime minister broke the law by demonstrating unlawfully in Parliament Square last summer. If found guilty he could face 50 weeks in prison - though, after serving 10 years at No 11, he should do his bird with ease."

I do like his brand of serious humour.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Breaking the secrecy of the voting booth

Thanks to Glyn via the ORG list for the pointer to this YouTube video by Ron Gongrijp and co.:

After nearly 20 years of using computing machines, a TV programme just before the elections last year finally brought home the problems with evoting to the masses. The Dutch have now abandoned computer based voting, at least for the time being.

"On September 27, 2007 the Election Process Advisory Commission issued its 'Voting with confidence' report. The State Secretary for the Interior immediately announced that the 'Regulation for approval of voting machines 1997' will be withdrawn. On October 1, 2007 the District Court of Amsterdam decertified all Nedap voting computers currently in use in The Netherlands. The court order is a result of an administrative law procedure started by 'We do not trust voting computers' in March 2007. On October 21, 2007 the 'Regulation for approval of voting machines 1997' was finally withdrawn.

Elections in the Netherlands will be held using paper ballots and red pencil for a while. After that, we will likely be using 'vote printers' and separate counting machines."

Pity Bertie Ahern won't take the hint.

Data on 160,000 children lost by London hospital

I'm fairly sure these kinds of data losses are not new but in the wake of the HMRC debacle they have become temporarily newsworthy. The latest, via Ideal Government. I hope Ruth Kennedy won't mind me quoting her in full:

"That-paper-which-now-looks-really-heavyweight-in-comparison-to-all -the-freebie-showbiz-gossip-rags reports tonight that the personal details of 160,000 children have been lost at a London hospital in a fresh blunder over confidential information.

A computer disc containing the data was sent to St Leonard’s Hospital in Hackney but failed to reach the right department - even though it was signed for by hospital staff. The disc contained the names, dates of birth and addresses of 160,000 children and there were fears the information could be enough for criminals to create fake identities. The blunder occurred when the disc was sent by courier to the Hackney hospital by BT, which operates the NHS’s IT system, on 14 November. It is believed the courier company used by BT did not check that it was signed for by the correct person and the disc never reached its intended destination in the IT department.

A spokeswoman for City and Hackney Primary Care Trust, which runs St Leonard’s Hospital, said “BT couriered a fully encrypted disc containing patient information to City and Hackney PCT. “It was not received by the named recipient, and attempts by the PCT to find the disc have so far failed. All deliveries of personal information have been suspended in light of the breach.” BT today called for parents to remain calm over the latest incident. A spokesman said: “Patients should not be concerned because BT uses the highest levels of security to safeguard the data in its care.

[Er… short of making sure that it or its representatives only hands over the data to the person who is supposed to receive it?]

“All NHS data sent by disc is fully encrypted to industry standards. We apply stringent controls in managing the complex encryption pass phrases necessary for unlocking the data. In this instance the encryption pass phrase would only have been released after one of two named individuals confirmed receipt. This was not confirmed so the encryption pass phrase has not been issued.

Ah… we can relax then. (Though the Standard worries that even 256-bit encryption has recently been shown by researchers to be crackable in two weeks...)

All this attention on missing data is not unhelpful in drawing ordinary people’s attention to a) the volume and frequency of personal data transfers and b) the potential value of their personal data. That’s not a bad thing - probably more effective than a fancy public service advertising campaign. Ruth Carnall, chief executive of NHS London, has asked for an independent review of all NHS data transfer in London. WIBBI all these emergency reviews encompassed a really citizen-centric cost-benefit analysis of centralised data systems. "

Thursday, December 13, 2007

When you don't like the decision, sack the decision maker

From the Independent today: You're fired! Councillor loses his job after voting against Donald Trump's golf course

MercExchange win another round v eBay

MercExchange has won the latest round in the long running, electronic button patent, dispute with eBay.

"A federal judge has approved a roughly $30 million judgment against eBay Inc. more than four years after a jury concluded the online auctioneer had infringed on the patent of a small Virginia company.

U.S. District Court Judge Jerome Friedman's certification, issued late Tuesday in Virginia, edges Great Falls, Va.-based MercExchange LLC a step closer to cashing in on its long-running battle against one of the Internet's powerhouses.

But eBay still hopes to avoid writing a check."

Much though we may like to sympathise with the underdog, and in this case MercExchange has apparently reduced its workforce from 40 to 3, it is frankly ludicrous that a patent for a "buy it now" electronic button on a website should have been awarded in the first place, let alone kept expensive lawyers and the full gamut of the US court system (including the US Supreme Court last year, where at the hearing Chief Justice Roberts confessed himself somewhat perplexed that something so obvious could be the subject of a patent dispute) gainfully employed for over four years.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

3 strikes and you're terminated

From Michael at ORG:

"Last week’s Social Market Foundation event - ‘Intellectual Property Rights and Consumer Rights’ - despite the title’s implied concern for balance, showed disregard for consumers and promoted rights holders’ interests. The minister responsible for UK-IPO spoke of the need for balance in reforming Britain intellectual property regulation but Government’s actions do not yet evidence this commitment. The BPI’s trail for a UK version of France’s ‘3 strikes’ approach to p2p infringement also gave cause for concern.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills’, Lord Triesman, broad-ranging speech (link to PDF download) took in the usual policy concerns of technological developments, new business models, traffic in infringing content and consumer awareness of IPR. However, a year on from the Gowers Review recommendations for flexible copyright regulation, including a ‘format-shifting’ exception to legalise the near-universal practice of transferring CD recordings to mp3 players, seem no closer despite the rapid allocation of funding to ‘anti-piracy’ enforcement. Ian Brown, billed as the event’s agent provocateur, slammed the speech for its anti-competition and anti-consumer stance. For a more balanced approach to these issues, Ian’s slides are available for download.

In the panel discussion that followed, Richard Mollett flagged moves towards a voluntary agreement between the BPI and ISPs to reduce copyright-infringing traffic, similar to France’s ‘3 strikes’ model. He expects an initial warning from the ISP that infringing traffic is associated with a particular account will halt 75% of infringers. If suspicious activity continues then account suspension is the next step, before the final sanction of account termination. Even assuming there will be adequate appeal procedures, although no assurances were given, this mechanism will harm consumer interests unless systems for identifying protected content operate perfectly. Regardless, and fortunately this point was recognised by all parties to the discussion, cutting off internet access is very much the ‘nuclear option’. The proportionality of this approach still requires broader public discussion given internet access may soon become a basic need, comparable to utilities like water and electricity."

Yale's open courses

Yale now have an open content project, Open Yale Courses. Yaaay(l). (Sorry - couldn't resist it). At the moment they cover astronomy, english, philosophy, physics, political science (I wish they wouldn't call it that - politics is not science), psychology and religious studies.

Patent Troll Tracker stats for 2007

The Patent Troll Tracker has been adding up the number of patent troll cases seen in the US between January and November 2007.

"Here are the cumulative statistics for the first 11 months of 2007, comparing the various districts. Note that I got an email from someone who had numbers run independently, and I am told I have undercounted the number of cases by X and the number of defendants in EDTX by Y. As I said above, this is really a judgment call. I may not have counted all of the bifurcated Judge Clark cases while someone else may have. Either way, even if my numbers are low, they are astoundingly high compared to history:

ED Texas: 343 patent cases, 1,320 defendants sued (140 troll cases)
CD California: 251 patent cases, 647 defendants sued (17 troll cases)
D New Jersey: 176 patent cases, 329 defendants sued (13 troll cases)
D Delaware: 128 patent cases, 310 defendants sued (16 troll cases)
ND California: 127 patent cases, 240 defendants sued (19 troll cases)
ND Illinois: 125 patent cases, 231 defendants sued (23 troll cases)
SD New York: 95 patent cases, 244 defendants sued (13 troll cases)

Peter Zura has an interesting post here, where he notes that Justia's stats show 2,577 cases for 2007 through the end of November - probably trending to be flat for the year, in terms of number of cases (ECF has 2,741 cases, 248 in November -- which has to have you wondering whether to trust Justia on this). But Zura wonders whether, if you track by the number of defendants, 2007 is in fact busier than previous years.

I think the answer is a resounding yes. The numbers I have collected and the ones others have sent me indicate that even though the number of cases filed nationwide is trending to be flat from 2006 to 2007, or perhaps up slightly - like 5% - the number of defendants sued is way way up. In EDTX alone, there were around 1,000 defendants sued in 2006, give or take. Well, already through the end of November, there are over 1,300 sued, a 30% increase. I am projecting around a 30% increase nationwide from 2006 to 2007, and perhaps even higher. That's about 1,800-2,000 more defendants sued for patent infringement in 2007 vs. 2006."

The obsession with improving voter turnout is dangerous

Councillor's Commission, has decided that councils be allowed to offer people a material incentive, like a free lottery ticket, to encourage people to vote, thereby improving voter turnout in local elections.

" All this stuff about turnout would hardly be worth going on about if it was just a matter of preventing some councillors luring people to the polling station with the offer of a free tombola. Unfortunately the drive to increase turnout has a serious consequence. It leads politicians (particularly, at the moment, Labour ones, who fear it is their voters staying at home) to feel that it is more important to make voting easier than it is to ensure that the voting system is secure...

The Electoral Commission, the body policing the system, has been working hard to ensure voting and politics has integrity. And it has repeatedly argued that we need individual-signed voter registration. Tomorrow it will press its case again. But it is being resisted by MPs. Why? Because it is feared that such registration will reduce turnout.

This obsession with turnout isn't simply pointless. It's dangerous."

'Digital Decision Making: Back to the Future' a "must read"

In a bout of shameless self promotion, I just wanted to say many thanks to Kim Cameron for describing my book, Digital Decision Making: Back to the Future, as "a must read". Coming from one of the smartest digital identity architects of our time, I consider that a huge compliment.

The Canadian Facebook Copyright Activists

Michael Geist set up a Facebook page at the beginning of December to protest against the Canadian government's plans to introduce their own version of the DMCA and EUCD. As of today it has 17,732 members (5 of whom have signed up in time it took me to write this post). Michael has been articulating the problems with the proposed legislation on his blog for some time. Other highly respected bloggers like Cory Doctorow and Howard Knopf have also been railing against the proposals and there have been various real world protests, all of which, superficially at least, seem to have led the minister driving the proposals to stop (scroll to top to see Geist's commentary) and consider whether he is doing the right thing.

The Facebook page is labelled 'Fair copyright for Canada.'
"The Canadian government is about to introduce new copyright legislation that will be a complete sell-out to U.S. government and lobbyist demands. The new Canadian legislation will likely mirror the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act with strong anti-circumvention legislation that goes far beyond what is needed to comply with the World Intellectual Property Organization's Internet treaties. Moreover, it will not address the issues that concern millions of Canadians. For example, the Conservatives' promise to eliminate the private copying levy will likely be abandoned. There will be no flexible fair dealing. No parody exception. No time shifting exception. No device shifting exception. No expanded backup provision. Nothing that focuses on the issues of the ordinary Canadian.

Instead, the government will choose locks over learning, property over privacy, enforcement over education, (law)suits over security, lobbyists over librarians, and U.S. policy over a "Canadian-made" solution.

This group will help ensure that the government hears from concerned Canadians. It will feature news about the bill, tips on making the public voice heard, and updates on local events. With regular postings and links to other content, it will also provide a central spot for people to learn more about Canadian copyright reform."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Craig Venter and the synthetic genomes patents

The ETC Group have been getting exorcised over Craig Venter's latest genome patent land grab.

"Six months ago ETC Group exposed the Venter Institute’s controversial patent applications on the world’s first human-made living organism built entirely from synthetic DNA (dubbed “Synthia” by ETC Group). Newly published patent claims reveal an even bigger grab for ownership of synthetic life.

A suite of patent applications lodged by J. Craig Venter and his colleagues claims exclusive monopoly on a wide swath of synthetic biology and demonstrate a not-so-subtle move to position Venter’s company, Synthetic Genomics, Inc., as the ‘microbesoft’ of synthetic life. Find out about “The Men & Money Behind Synthia.”

This time, Venter’s shop isn’t claiming a single microbe (Synthia) made from synthetic DNA – the new claims are broadly framed to seek exclusive monopoly on ALL synthetic genomes. Venter’s latest bid for extreme monopoly has drawn strong condemnation – but not much surprise – from civil society and from scientists in the field of synthetic biology."

EU Online Copyright Bill Coming

IPWatch worry the publishing industry have got too cosy with EU information Society Commissioner, Viviane Reding.

"European publishers and copyright holders have a friend in European Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding, which she reinforced last week in describing efforts to push through a new bill on digital publishing copyrights. At the same event, publishers and cutting-edge US technology company SecondLife debated IP issues such as the problems of digital rights management for protecting copyrights.

“Copyright is a cornerstone of the information and knowledge-based society,” Reding told the 6 December European Publishers’ Forum. “This is why I introduced in the new framework an appropriate balance between ownership and access.”

“This is a concrete legal endorsement of the role of copyright and I hope it will send a signal across the whole industry at a critical time,” she said."

A watched society leads to active conformity

Lynne Duke at the Washington Post has been thinking about our growing surveillance society and the degree to which awareness of that surveillance leads people to actively conform to expected behaviour norms.

Thanks to Suw via ORG for the link.

Race.Net Neutrality

Jerry Kang has a fascinating paper on net neutrality pending publication in a forthcoming Journal on Telecommunications and High Technology Law. It's available at SSRN: He essentially uses the history of race discrimination to shine a light on net discrimination. This kind of cross disciplinary analysis has long been advocated by my colleagues in the systems department at the Open University.


"The “net neutrality” debate is undergoing a theoretical transition. Since the late 1990s, we have moved from “open access,” to “end to end,” to “net neutrality,” and by 2007, the question seems to have transformed into “anti‐discrimination.” To the extent that net discrimination frames the question, our history and experience with race discrimination should be cognitively salient. Although patently different subjects, these two forms of discrimination share some similarities which have been noted by various commentators but never systematically explored. This Essay begins that study, with the goal of gleaning lessons for telecommunications policy.

A comparison and contrast between race discrimination and net discrimination teaches us, first, to particularize the discrimination at issue, and to be wary of what I call normative carve‐outs in defining discrimination. Second, the comparison sensitizes us to the clash between welfarist and deontological concerns that have not been adequately distinguished within the net neutrality debate. Third, it urges us to be cautious about facile assurances that individual, firm, or market rationality will ensure the public interest. I conclude with a provocative question: do the arguments against net neutrality regulation apply equally well against common carriage obligations for traditional telephony?"

Thanks to various Cyberprofs for the pointer.