Friday, February 15, 2008
Judicial Review of Serious Fraud Office decision to stop BAE-Saudi corruption inquiry
Update from the Corner House:
"On Friday 15 February, at the end of the two-day hearing in the UK's High
Court, the two judges did not give a ruling but said they would do so 'as
soon as possible'.
Documents made public on the first day of the hearing (14 February 2008)
reveal that BAE Systems wrote to the Attorney General on a 'strictly
private and confidential' basis urging him to halt the Serious Fraud
Office investigation into allegations that BAE had bribed Saudi Arabian
officials to secure the Al Yamamah arms deal.
The company argued that the investigation should be dropped on commercial
and diplomatic grounds.
To see these and other documents, follow the links from the home page of
our website (http://www.thecornerhouse.org.uk) or go to the 'Control BAE'
Below is some of the UK media's coverage of the judicial review over the
past few days.
best wishes from all at The Corner House
Susan Hawley, Nicholas Hildyard, Sarah Sexton and Larry Lohmann
1) 'BAE: secret papers reveal threats from Saudi prince'
The Guardian, Friday 15 February 2008
2) 'A cover-up laid bare: court hears how SFO inquiry was halted'
The Guardian, Friday 15 February 2008
3) 'Government rolled over to Saudi BAE threats, says judge'
The Guardian, Thursday 14 February 2008
4) 'Judge criticises dropping of BAE inquiry'
Financial Times, Friday 15 February 2008
5) 'Blair used 'irresistible pressure' to halt investigation into
BAE-Saudi arms deal'
The Independent, Friday 15 February 2008
6) 'Britain powerless in face of Saudi threats, court told'
· Judges sceptical about efforts to resist pressure
· BAE review told ministers entitled to ignore treaty
The Guardian, Saturday February 16 2008
7) 'SFO was 'powerless' to resist Saudi pressure over BAE investigation'
The Times, Saturday February 16, 2008
8) 'Justice has been debased in the fight against terror'
The Observer, Sunday February 17 2008"
Students lose copyright suit against Turnitin
"A United States District Court judge in Virginia has issued an order indicating that a motion for summary judgment filed by iParadigms seeking dismissal of plaintiffs' copyright infringement claims will be granted and thereby removed the action from his trial calendar. iParadigms is the creator of the Turnitin(R) Plagiarism Detection Service.
"This is a just and proper decision based on the law," says Andrew Smiley, a prominent New York trial attorney and frequent legal commentator.
The action in Virginia was instituted by four high school students who had allegedly submitted papers to Turnitin, which is licensed and approved by plaintiffs' school districts. The students claimed that their intellectual property rights were being violated because papers submitted to Turnitin are incorporated into the Turnitin database to prevent future collusion. iParadigms' motion for summary judgment sought dismissal of plaintiffs' claims based on both their agreement to a contract that precluded the relief they were seeking and based on the fair use defense under the Copyright Act. 17 U.S.C. Section 107."
The students had registered the copyrights in the papers they submitted Turnitin so you'd have thought de facto copying them to a database for commercial use would be clear copyright infringement. Looks like the judge decided contract law trumps copyright in this instance as the students through submission of the papers effectively signed an agreement not to take such legal action. The question of fair use for educational purposes also comes into the case but I'm not sure how Turnitin can really avail themselves of such a defence. In any case it will be very interesting to see the details of the judge's order.
Tiscali and BPI go to war over 'three strikes' payments
"Tiscali, the UK's fourth largest broadband provider, implemented a "three strikes" arrangement with the record industry to disconnect illegal filesharers last summer, The Register can reveal.
But over a matter of hours yesterday any deal that Tiscali thought it had made with the BPI evaporated in a row over money.
Relations between the pair are in disarray as they battle over who should cover the costs of sending warning letters to peer to peer users and then disconnect persistent copyright infringers. The system the two-million-customer ISP believed it had agreed with the BPI is the same one that the government is pushing all ISPs to enforce."
Thanks to Glyn at ORG for the pointer.
Commissioner McCreevy's handout to aging rock stars
Waterboarding now illegal again in the US
Democratic senators have been opposing president Bush's attempts to have Mr Bradbury confirmed in his post.
Uk heading towards police state
"The machine is out of control. Personal surveillance in Britain is so extensive that no democratic oversight is remotely plausible. Some 800 organisations, including the police, the revenue, local and central government, demanded (and almost always got) 253,000 intrusions on citizen privacy in the last recorded year, 2006. This is way beyond that of any other country in the free world.
The Sadiq Khan affair has killed stone dead the thesis, beloved of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, that any accretion of power to the state is sustainable because ministers are in control. Whether this applies to phone tapping, bugging devices, ID cards, NHS records, childcare computer systems, video surveillance or detention without trial, it is simply a lie. Nobody can control this torrent of intrusion. Nobody can oversee a burst dam...
The grim reality... is that it has seen a substantial section of the British establishment allowing itself to believe that private dealings between lawyer and client, and between MP and constituent, should no longer be considered immune from state surveillance. A cardinal principle of a free democracy is thus coolly abandoned. It is not a victory for national security. It is a victory for terrorism...
When the council can bug you for fly-tipping, when prisons can record conversations with defence lawyers, when any potentially criminal act can justify electronic intrusion - and when ministers resort to the dictator's excuse, "The innocent need not fear" - warning bells should sound.
There is no "balance" to be struck between civil liberty and national security. Civil liberty is absolute, security its handmaid. Measures are needed to protect the public, but a firm line needs to be drawn round them. The line must accept a degree of risk, or a police state is just around the corner...
To claim that Britain is a police state insults those who are victims of real ones. But I have no doubt that feeble ministers are slithering down just this road, pushed by the security/industrial complex. It is not oversight that must be increased, but rather the categories and boundaries of surveillance that must be drastically curbed...
...how often must we remind ourselves that the bomber need not kill to achieve his end when we appease his yearning for the martyrdom of repression? The amount of surveillance in Britain is grotesque. It is a sign of the corruption of power, and nothing else."
5000 medical records stolen
"A laptop containing the medical records of more than 5,000 patients has been stolen from a hospital...
The computer was taken from the outpatients department at Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley, West Midlands, on January 8.
It contains a database with information on 5,123 anticoagulation patients...
Letters have been sent to those affected and police have launched an investigation."
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Microsoft encourage teens to think of jail time for copyright
The irony of a convicted monopolist preaching to teenagers about breaking the law is unlikely to be lost in the commentary from the usual suspects. Thanks to Michael Geist for the pointer.
It's not clear whether Microsoft's statement to teen respondents -- "When you do not follow these rules you are open to significant fines and possibly jail time" -- is entirely accurate, particularly when teens under the age of 18 are involved. Emily Berger, an intellectual property fellow at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is skeptical. "I think it's being used as a scare tactic," she said. "It's a real stretch of the law to say it's theoretically possible."
Nevertheless, Microsoft wants to correct teens' woeful ignorance. To do so, it has turned to Topics Education, a developer of custom curricula, to create a curriculum called "Intellectual Property Rights Education" for middle school and high school teachers. The Microsoft-sponsored curriculum consists of Web-based resources and case-study driven lesson plans that aim to engage students about intellectual property issues.
To support its teachings, Microsoft has launched MyBytes, a Web
sitewhere students can create custom ringtones, share content -- "their own content," as Microsoft makes clear -- and learn more about intellectual property rights.
Musicians, fans and online copyright
Musicians, fans and online copyright
Wednesday, March 19, 2008 2:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Old Theatre, London School of Economics
London, WC2A 2AE
Is home downloading killing music? Should Internet Service Providers monitor customers to try and spot copyright infringement, and disconnect downloaders? Do musicians need new laws to benefit from the opportunities of the Internet?
Join us to debate these questions and more with leading copyright thinkers from the music world, government, consumer groups and universities. Confirmed speakers include John Kennedy (CEO of IFPI), Paul Sanders (CEO of PlayLouder), Becky Hogge (Open Rights Group), Lilian Edwards (Southampton University), Rufus Pollock (Cambridge University) and Michelle Childs (Knowledge Ecology International).
EU commissioner plans to extend copyright term for sound recordings
McCreevy is the internal market commissioner and it looks as though he has swallowed and is regurgitating music industry PR.
"The Internal Market Commissioner intends to bring forward a proposal to extend the term of protection for sound recordings to 95 years. This proposal should be ready for adoption by the Commission before the summer break of 2008.
If nothing is done, thousands of European performers who recorded in the late fifties and sixties will lose all of their airplay royalties over the next ten years. "I am not talking about featured artists like Cliff Richard or Charles Aznavour. I am talking about the thousands of anonymous session musicians who contributed to sound recordings in the late fifties and sixties. They will no longer get airplay royalties from their recordings. But these royalties are often their sole pension", says Commissioner Charlie Mc Creevy in describing the rationale behind his proposal.
"I am determined to ensure that this extension will benefit all artists – whether featured artists or session musicians," the Commissioner says. "For session musicians, the record companies will set up a fund – a substantial fund reserving at least 20% of the income during the extended term to them. For featured artists, original advances may no longer be set off against royalties in the extended term. That means the artist would get all the royalties during the extended term." he adds.
The Commissioner also proposes a 'use it or lose it' provision. That means that, in case a record company is unwilling to re-release a performance during the extended term, the performer can move to another label."There's that old soundbite about poor musicians with no pension again. What about poor plumbers with no pension? Will they get paid for 95 years for every tap they fix? And it takes a bit longer to put in a kitchen sink than to sing a song. Performers should be required to do pension planning like everyone else. And it is easy in the case of royalties, as at least you know when they are scheduled to stop.
McCreevy is a chartered accountant and was the Irish finance minister for a time (1997 - 2004) and he knows his way around money but I doubt he ever met an economist in the finance department who told him the term of copyright was too short. He's smart enough to understand the economics and will therefore be approaching the push for copyright term extension from a political rather than an economic or competition perspective.
Update: Remember that the proposal to extend copyright term was recently defeated in the EU parliament's CULT Committee.
- Biometric data from non-EU travellers
- PirateBay - blocked in Denmark
- Internet-related privacy issues on the EU institutions' agenda
- Microsoft's actions investigated again by the European Commission
- Finnish e-voting system must not stay a trade secret
- France's gendarmerie goes for open source software
- Europe spams more than the US
- Wales said no to ID cards
- Recommended Reading
Canada a top US copyright violator
"Canada has joined Russia and China as the biggest violators of U.S. copyright law, according to the U.S.-based International Intellectual Property Alliance.
In a report filed to U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab on Monday, the group recommended that Canada join the other two countries on the USTR's Priority Watch List."
I wonder if the the real reason that the IIPA has targetted Canada is because Michael Geist managed to get his government to drop plans for a Canadian version of the DMCA? The reason given the report is that the Canadians haven't implemented the 1996 WIPO treaties yet. The IIPA, incidentally, was set up in 1984 by eight trade assocations representing the various branches of the publishing, entertainment and software industries, covering about 1500 companies altogether. It was partly as a result of their lobbying that Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act got amended in 1984 to enable the US to impose trade sanctions against countries suspected of infringing US intellectual property rights.
In addition, since the US trade representative's office are tasked with providing a hit list of suspected IP infringing countries each year but don't have the staff to do the research or generate the figures, the IIPA kindly provide them with a report on estimated losses to US IP industires in countries around the world. After all they did have a ready made intelligence network of 1500 companies with branches all over the world and employees in those places who were more than happy to present estimates of how big they felt their local piracy problem to be. Incentives to inflate the figures are fairly obvious and given a similar opportunity to influence government policy the patent reformists I mentioned earlier today would probably take similar advantage.
The problem again is that real data on the cost of intellectual property infringement is notoriously difficult to find.
Update: Meanwhile via the good professor Geist and CBC News I learn that:
"A who's who of powerful companies and business associations have banded together to push for less restrictive copyright reform, driving a stake into the heart of the federal government's argument for its new copyright bill.
The Business Coalition for Balanced Copyright, a group that includes Google, Yahoo, Rogers, Telus, the Canadian Alliance of Broadcasters and the Retail Council of Canada, among others, on Tuesday sent its stance on seven key copyright principles to Industry Minister Jim Prentice, Canadian Heritage Minister Josée Verner and several other cabinet ministers."
Harvard become the first US university to mandate open access to faculty researhc papers
Peter's colleague, Gavin Baker has collected a round up of the reactions to the decision. Well done to the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences say I. It'll be a boost to the open access movement and interesting to observe how it actually works in practice.
On behalf of the Provost’s Committee on Scholarly Publishing, Professor S. Shieber will move:
The Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University is committed to disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible. In keeping with that commitment, the Faculty adopts the following policy: Each Faculty member grants to the President and Fellows of Harvard College permission to make available his or her scholarly articles and to exercise the copyright in those articles. In legal terms, the permission granted by each Faculty member is a nonexclusive, irrevocable, paid-up, worldwide license to exercise any and all rights under copyright relating to each of his or her scholarly articles, in any medium, and to authorize others to do the same, provided that the articles are not sold for a profit. The policy will apply to all scholarly articles written while the person is a member of the Faculty except for any articles completed before the adoption of this policy and any articles for which the Faculty member entered into an incompatible licensing or assignment agreement before the adoption of this policy. The Dean or the Dean’s designate will waive application of the policy for a particular article upon written request by a Faculty member explaining the need.
To assist the University in distributing the articles, each Faculty member will provide an electronic copy of the final version of the article at no charge to the appropriate representative of the Provost’s Office in an appropriate format (such as PDF) specified by the Provost’s Office. The Provost’s Office may make the article available to the public in an open-access repository.
The Office of the Dean will be responsible for interpreting this policy, resolving disputes concerning its interpretation and application, and recommending changes to the Faculty from time to time. The policy will be reviewed after three years and a report presented to the Faculty.
Update: Mike Carroll, unsurprisingly, has lots and lots to say on the subject :-)
[Disclosure: I've been a supporter of the Harvard initiative since its inception and have provided informal input to its proponents periodically along the way.]
How big a deal is this initiative by the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences? It's huge.
First, this is a bottom-up initiative. Open access advocates have been working hard over the years to get faculty authors to pay greater attention to their copyrights. While faculties at various institutions have adopted resolutions supporting open access as a principle and as a goal, this is the first time that faculty authors as a group have stepped up and really acknowledged that the Internet matters and that business-as-usual publishing fails to take advantage of the Internet as a means for spreading knowledge throughout the world.
Second, by precommitting themselves in this fashion, the faculty has recognized that copyright is an author's right. With rights come responsibilities. These authors have committed to each other that they will take greater responsibility for managing their copyrights and for providing the public with free access to their work.
There are a number of heroes in this story. Within the administration, Steve Hyman, the provost, set up a faculty committee to study scholarly communication issues and practices. Stuart Shieber (Computer Science) chaired that committee and, along with his committee members, labored for more than a year to make this happen.
It is now up to faculty on other campuses to reflect on whether they too are willing to be responsible authors in the twenty-first century.
Senate approves legal immunity for telcos involving in mass wiretapping
"The Senate voted Tuesday to shield from lawsuits telecommunications companies that helped the government eavesdrop on their customers without court permission after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
After nearly two months of stops and starts, the Senate rejected by a vote of 31 to 67 a move to strip away a grant of retroactive legal immunity for the companies.
President Bush has promised to veto any new surveillance bill that does not protect the companies that helped the government in its warrantless wiretapping program, arguing that it is essential if the private sector is to give the government the help it needs."
Put down that MP3 player or we shoot
The police were acting responsibly given the nature of the report and fortunately no one got hurt but they should remove the innocent man's fingerprints and DNA from their databases.
Forcing ISPs to be copyright police
The proposals, as reported at least, seem to be that ISPs would give two warnings to users about the downloading of pirated material, before being banned from their connection.
I wouldn't be surprised if the final consultation Green Paper contains somewhat different proposals. But starting from the presumption that these or similar proposals are really under consideration, there are two points that vex me about this.
Firstly, this would be an interesting and serious change to the principle that ISPs do not discriminate between types of traffic (see (and here) the related network neutrality debate - we touched on this in the FYI pamphlet). There are both ethical and practical reasons for this. For the former, the questions relate to ISPs' mandate to police networks; and the process of deciding what and whose traffic is legitimate and legal. In terms of practicality, it is difficult to see how this will actually work. Can I email my friends mp3s? Will something be scanning what I send? What is the technology that facilitates this? in short, exactly how will ISPs determine what is an illegal piece of data? There's more on this here.)
It is interesting that this is happening in an area less than ethically, culturally and even economically clear-cut (music downloading). Whatever arguments I have heard, I do not see as entirely valid the simplistic connection between stealing a product from a shop and sharing music online - as it is made, for example, by the BPI. Music is more than a product - it is part of our cultural life. It needs to be shared, built upon, talked about and critiqued. Cultural industries are supposed to support people's ability to do this, and not play too strong a role in deciding how it happens.
Which leads to the second point. It strikes me that the music industry are precisely the wrong people to be negotiating with Internet Service Providers. It's like asking non-doms to write their own tax rules. The recent past has, surely, all but destroyed much of the bigger end of the music industry's credibility in the field of promoting the interests of music and culture? The self-interest of some of the biggest players seems to me to have helped to promote misguided technological constraints; has restricted people's ability to use new technology to explore new ways of making and distributing (and selling) music and film; and has almost certainly worked to the financial detriment of their industry (try to find a decent download service for films in the UK, especially for Mac users, for example).
BIO report: no empirical evidence to support patent reform
The report critiques three recent studies by the FTC, NAS and NRC that have been widely cited by those claiming the current patent system is broken and in need of major reforms. In particular, the report points out a dearth of empirical evidence to support allegations that poor quality patents, patent thickets, patent trolls, etc., are impeding innovation and product commercialization. The report also notes a recent trend in the courts tightening up the requirements of patentability (e.g., Fisher and KSR) and limiting the availability of permanent injunctions (eBay v. MercExchange) could effectively address many of the concerns expressed by critics of the patent system, obviating the need for a legislative fix.Holman has looked into the impact of human gene patents on research, specifically trying to find all instances where such patents had been the subject of litigation in the US courts. He found a limited number of cases and seems to have concluded that these patents are not therefore a big problem. Of course revorded litigation tells us nothing of the chilling effect of such patents or the collective of cease and desist letters in cases which never reach the litigation stage. In addition to the culture of secrecy in the academic and commercial life sciences that John Wilbanks talks so eloquently about, the lack of apparent litigation in this area, at least as turned up by Professor Holman, would constitute insufficient evidence for me to drop my concerns about human gene patents yet.
Particularly with respect to biotechnology and so-called "gene patents," scholars have noted that most of the attacks on the current patent regime are often based on assumptions and anecdote. See, e.g., See Timothy Caulfield et al., Evidence and Anecdotes: An Analysis of Human Gene Patenting Controversies, 24 Nature Biotechnology 1091, (2006). Empiricial studies that have been conducted indicate that third party patents have had little impact on biomedical research, particularly in the noncommercial academic sector. See, e.g., John P. Walsh et al., View from the Bench: Patents and Material Transfers, 309 Science 2002, 2002-03 (2005).
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Writer Sues Mel Gibson Over 'Passion'
"A screenwriter sued Mel Gibson and his production company on Monday, claiming he was misled by the actor-director into accepting a small payment for writing "The Passion of the Christ," and was refused extra money when the film became a blockbuster."
The Power of Diversity: The Performance of Distributed Problem Solving Networks
Scott Page was entertaining on the stats of the wisdom of crowds and John Wilbanks had a particularly powerful contribution on the prevailing culture of secrecy in the academic life sciences.
Tolkien estate sues New Line Cinema
"The plaintiffs seek more than $150 million in compensatory damages, unspecified punitive damages and a court order giving the Tolkien estate the right to terminate any rights New Line may have to make films based on other works by the author, including "The Hobbit."
Such an order would scuttle plans by New Line to make a two-film prequel based on "The Hobbit." "Rings" trilogy director Peter Jackson has already signed on to serve as executive producer on the project, which is tentatively slated to begin production next year, with releases planned for 2010 and 2011.
"The Tolkien trustees do not file lawsuits lightly, and have tried unsuccessfully to resolve their claims out of court," Steven Maier, an attorney for the Tolkien estate based in Britain, said in a statement. "New Line has not paid the plaintiffs even one penny of its contractual share of gross receipts despite the billions of dollars of gross revenue generated by these wildly successful motion pictures."
Maier also claims the film studio has blocked the Tolkien estate and the other plaintiffs from auditing the receipts of the last two films."
Having looked into and written about some past Tolkien IP disputes in my book and found Cathleen Blackburn, who represents the Tolkien trustees, to be tremendously thoughtful and helpful, my perspective fwiiw is that they take a very balanced approach to IP in practice. So when Steven Maier says they do not file lawsuits lightly, he can be taken seriously and has the record to prove it. The movie industry on the other hand don't have a similar history. So insofar as one can, without access to the full details of the case, I would be inclined to believe that justice requires that the Tolkien trustees prevail here.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Coloured pencils review
"Today I acquired a set of color pencil devices. You can get them in certain specialized shops. Note the device color range greatly varies by manufacturer; mine wasn’t even in the 6 bit range, producing only up to 24 colors when displayed. Invitations are not required for usage of color pencils though the service is paid only, with unfortunately no trial period...."
Thanks to Tony for the pointer.
Monday, February 11, 2008
"Improving airport security - the terahertz revolution"
Henry Murray's analysis of the personality of Adolph Hitler
"Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler
"The Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler" is a fascinating report that is part of Cornell Law Library’s Donovan Nuremberg Trials Collection. The collection consists of nearly 150 bound volumes of Nuremberg trial transcripts and documents from the personal archives of General William J. Donovan (1883-1959). General Donovan worked on the staff of Chief Prosecutor Robert H. Jackson (later U.S. Supreme Court Justice Jackson) which gave Donovan a unique perspective on the war crime trials. "Wild Bill" Donovan is better known for his work as head of the Office of Special Services (OSS) during World War II, which led to his recognition as the father of the CIA, which morphed from the OSS after the war. The report was commissioned by the OSS in preparation for dealing with Hitler and Germany after the war. The analysis of Hitler was compiled by Dr. Henry A. Murray, a pioneering psychologist of the time and Director of the Harvard Psychological Clinic. Only 30 copies of the report were created so the analysis has not been widely available. Cornell Law Library’s copy is the only copy easily accessible to the public online. The site includes a PDF version of the 227 page report. The entire book or parts thereof can be downloaded from the Table of Contents page. A “More Info” option gives links to related articles about the Nuremberg collection, Dr. Murray, and the OSS. The site provides an interesting look at Hitler and the emerging field of psychology. [JC]"
A fascinating historical document widely available only due to the hard work and insight of Cornell's librarian Claire Germain and her colleagues, Dr Nina Murray (Henry Murray's wife) who granted Cornell permission to digitise the work and the existence of the Net. It is a terrific simple and bounded but nonetheless powerful example of what a few dedicated individuals can do with the help of the technology.
Gov 2.0, or Truly Transformative Government
Ross Anderson's 15 minute talk in particular is essential viewing.
Update: Comments from Prof Anderson's slides below:
‘The Software Crisis’
· Since the 1960s about 30% of large private sector IT projects have failed
· We now have much better tools for managing the complexity but we haven’t cut the failure rate!
· We just build bigger better disasters
· So the failure rate is a function of corporate IT capability, appetite for risk and so on
The Public Sector is different
- According to Joe Harley CIO at dept for work and pensions public sector IT projects have a 30% success rate
- Public sector IT is £14 billion
The economics of dependability
- Rapidly growing field in which we study the effect of incentives on complex systems
- Most work so far is on individuals and firms acting as rational principals not on agency
- Analysis of agency effects in public sector organisations – Buchanan, Tullock etc
- Insight – a modern state isn’t a personal kingdom any more. Ministers and officials incentives differ from those of Henry VII
- Ministers want to get in the papers and get re-elected. Officials want to maximise control
- Can this give us any insight into systems failure?
Private sector projects
- Suppose you are developing a new branch automation system for a high street bank. You need the directors to – commit to a specification closing down options early, shut up and keep out of your way for two years while you code up and test it, take hard decisions if need be when you deploy it and parts of it don’t fit how people really work
- How feasible is this for a minister
Ministers and projects don’t mix
- Ministers are not hired to do stuff but to resolve conflicting interests in society
- Most supplicants are rent seekers, most alarms are false alarms and will go away
- So a sensible minister will respond to most demands by flannelling and doing nothing
- Absolutely the last thing a minister wants to do is take lots of hard decisions up front and be explicit about them
Ministers and projects don’t mix (2)
- The second thing s a good project client has to do is to shut up for 2 years while the system is being built
- How practical is it for a minister to keep out of the limelight for two years
- And the third thing to accept quickly and publicly that some promises won’t be delivered, and change the business accordingly
- Power struggles, as with dept of health officials fighting doctors for control of patient health records (a fight that began in the early part of the 20th century)
- ‘Electoral’ (look good with the voter) projects such as ID cards
- ‘Security’ as with the Cabinet Office framework for information assurance
- All quite comprehensible to an economist – security economics is now well studied
- Public sector projects are started with eye-catching but unrealistic objectives
- The stated objectives get changed many times as ministers bid for attention
- Suppliers know this – they low-ball the contract and then make their money on the changes
- Normal public sector risk aversion doesn’t work. Ministers are in a tournament for promotion; chickens usually roost on the next guy’s watch; and suppliers know failures will be covered up
Public sector projects that work
- Congestion charge: extremely simple stable specification – ‘Every car that comes into
and doesn’t pay us £5 by midnight is to be billed £40’ London
- Land registry systems – done by officials incrementally without any ministerial attention
- Large complex systems nowadays evolve rather than being built from scratch (Office, Google, Facebook…)
- If government want to build ever more complex systems that actually work, it will have to re-invent itself around evolutionary systems development
Another possible future
- Economists realised in the 1960s and most politicians by 1989 that macroeconomics places limits on how much the state can do
- I believe that 70% systems failure rate is also telling us that microeconomics also places limits
- Societies are complex systems too and if you try to manage stuff centrally you can only get so far
- Maybe this is the next big divide between liberals and big government folk (left and right)