Thursday, April 10, 2008

House Staffers Livid Over Web Site

Here's an interesting privacy conundrum from the Washington Post:

"Working from a cramped loft apartment a mile from the Capitol, a small Internet company has sparked a privacy rights battle with hundreds of angry top House staffers upset that the Web site has begun posting details about their personal finances.

In an unusual conflict over constitutional rights, the aides argue that the recent disclosures leave them highly vulnerable to identity theft. But the Web site, LegiStorm, contends that it has a First Amendment right to publish already public information about some of the Capitol's most powerful players -- the high-level staffers -- and is creating a new check against potential corruption."

Apparently the site includes names, job titles and salaries, which would probably seem ok but it also has home addresses, bank account and other personal financial details of the staffer and in some cases members of their family. The latter information is pushing the envelope at the very least. So is this a function of the financial disclosure information forms that Congress requires staff to fill in or a function of the fact that these details are now available on the Web? The website owner has apparently removed very specific bank account and social security number details in 20 cases where he felt the material was too private. He has also apologised to the individuals concerned.

Just one more example of how the Web completely changes the scale of what it is possible to do with personal information on an electronic database connected to the network.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

UK child database is 'not fit for purpose'

From the Register:

"The government is pressing ahead with its "Integrated Children's System" despite a review of four pilot projects which call into doubt the database's design and its benefits - if any - for care workers.

The ICS review was carried out by two academics from the University of York and nine researchers. They examined progress in two local authorities in England and two in Wales.

The review of the database - which will include entries on any child with serious illness, disability or contact with social services - only came to light as the result of a Freedom of Information request by Action on Rights for Children...

A DCSF spokesperson said: “ICS will help to ensure improved outcomes for children. That is why we are committed to seeing it implemented in all local authorities as soon as possible. Constructive feedback from local authorities and others – as captured by recent published research into ICS - is helping us to do that.”

Terri Dowty, director at Action on Rights for Children which made the Freedom of Information request, said: "ICS has got to work well. It will contain details of the needs of children with chronic illnesses and disabilities and, crucially, the care plans for those at risk of harm. If experienced social workers are saying that there are problems, these must be addressed before the system goes live. It is simply not good enough to ignore their concerns.""

New Zealanders get their own DMCA


"The Copyright (New Technologies) Amendment Bill changes the Copyright Act 1994 to clarify its application in the digital environment and to take account of international developments...

It introduces an offence, carrying a sentence of a maximum fine of $150,000 or up to five years imprisonment, or both, for commercial dealings in devices, services or information designed to circumvent technological protection measures."

So New Zealand has finally got its own version of the DMCA and EU copyright and related rights directive.

Microsoft, OOXML and ISO

Glyn Moody has an excellent article in Linux Journal on the process Microsoft went through to get OOXML approved as an international standard at ISO.

"I have been covering Microsoft for over 25 years - I've even written a few books about Windows. During that time, I've developed a certain respect for a company that just doesn't give up, and whose ability to spin surpasses even that of politicians. To be sure, Microsoft has crossed the line several times, but it has always worked within the system, however much it has attempted to use it for its own ends. No more: in the course of trying to force OOXML through the ISO fast-track process, it has finally gone further and attacked the system itself; in the process it has destroyed the credibility of the ISO, with serious knock-on consequences for the whole concept of open standards...

Leaving aside the intriguing idea that approving two, rival document standards may fall foul of the World Trade Organisation, there is also the interesting prospect of the EU getting interested. Some in Denmark have have already already complained to the EU about OOXML, and a posting from Poland claims that "the European Commission is currently investingating the Polish OOXML standarization process." And this is on top of an earlier statement from the European Commission that it would be examining "whether Microsoft's new file format Office Open XML, as implemented in Office, is sufficiently interoperable with competitors' products." Microsoft may have won the ISO battle, but it could well end up losing the rather more important war with the European Commission, which has already shown itself deeply unimpressed with Microsoft's approach to business."

Read it in full, for a great picture of the kind of behind the scenes work that large organisations engage in to bend the markets, often less-than-subtly, in their own favour.

90 MEPs block record industry's 3-strikes plan

From Cory Doctorow:

" Danny sez, "Last year, Euro Boing Boing readers wrote and called their MEPs to complain about European Union proposals advocating Internet filtering and blocking on behalf of the music industry. Not only were the amendments voted down, but now ninety MEPs from across the political spectrum have tabled a new text which condemns IFPI's plans to exile from the Net anyone they accuse three times of file-sharing:"
Calls on the Commission and the Member States to recognise that the Internet is a vast platform for cultural expression, access to knowledge, and democratic participation in European creativity, bringing generations together through the information society; calls on the Commission and the Member States, therefore, to avoid adopting measures conflicting with civil liberties and human rights and with the principles of proportionality, effectiveness and dissuasiveness, such as the interruption of Internet access.

(Translations into other EU languages here.)

"Among the advocates of the new language is Michel Rochard, the former Prime Minister of France. That's significant because present French PM Sarkozy is the only Euro leader currently seriously considering implementing IFPI's three strikes plan. With this kind of opposition, it looks like France might remain an anomaly, if it doesn't abandon the plans entirely.""

Update: Further commentary is available from the usual sources. The parliament's amendment encapsulates Lilian Edwards' objections to the 3 strike approach on proportionality and civil rights grounds.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Copyright suit over lecture notes

From Wired:

" University of Florida professor Michael Moulton thinks copyright law protects the lectures he gives to his students, and he's headed to court to prove it.

Moulton and his e-textbook publisher are suing Thomas Bean, who runs a company that repackages and sells student notes, arguing that the business is illegal since notes taken during college lectures violate the professor's copyright."

The plantiffs' lawyer says that students talking notes in class are protected by fair use but it is the packaging and selling for commercial gain that they are objecting to, since it puts a dent in the professor's and his publisher's income.

FIPR continue to be concerned about Phorm

FIPR has released a statement expressing continuing concerns about Phorm.


Nicholas Bohm, General Counsel for the Foundation for Information Policy Research, said:

"We are one of those organisations expressing deep concern. So far the Information Commissioner has neither acknowledged nor replied to our letter of 17 March, which raised serious and important issues.

"We now know that BT have already conducted secret trials of this technology, testing the effectiveness of snooping on their customers' Internet activities. They claim to have received extensive legal and other advice beforehand, but have failed to give the reasoning on which this advice is based.

"As we pointed out in our letter, the illegality stems not from breaching the Data Protection Act directly, but arises from the fact that the system intercepts Internet traffic. Interception is a serious offence, punishable by up to two years in prison. Almost incidentally, because the system is unlawful to operate, it cannot comply with Data Protection principles."

Richard Clayton, FIPR's Treasurer, and author of a recent technical analysis of Phorm's technology, said:

"Phorm have accepted the accuracy of my detailed write-up of the way their system works. Examining the detail makes it crystal clear that our earlier letter came to the right conclusion. Website data is being intercepted. The law of the land forbids this.""