Friday, November 14, 2008

Quotes of the day

"My advice is to do something which interests you or which you enjoy...and do it to the absolute best of your ability. If it interests you, however mundane it might seem on the surface, still explore it because something unexpected often turns up just when you least expect it. With this recipe, whatever your limitations, you will still do better than anyone else. Having chosen something worth doing, never give up and try not to let anyone down." Harold Kroto's advice to schoolchildren in 2001.

"If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you but if you really make them think they'll hate you." Don Marquis (Harold Kroto said this was his favorite quote, when giving the 2006 Charles Simonyi lecture: Can the Internet Save the Enlightenment?)

REM manger on music in a digital age

REM's manager Bertis Downs was interviewed at the recent Resonancia Colombia conference in Bogota. He's an engaging speaker, talking openly about how he and REM were slow to get the Internet and how "nobody knows anything" about the future shape and form of the music industry. He enthuses about an innovative show REM played at the Olympia in Dublin which triggered an explosion of Net tool facilitated re-mixes and how he learned a lot from that experience. Something that started as a kind of an accident in Dublin was then extended to all their shows and though he admits that he has mixed feelings about the success or otherwise of it is keen to experiment futher with what the technologies facilitate.

If you have 40 minutes to spare and an intersting the futre of the music industry take a look at the video:

Thanks to Paul Sanders via the ORG list for the pointer.

Baby P and the impossibility of elimating risk through administrative process

Simon Jenkins, in the wake of the tragic Baby P case, has a thoughtful piece in the Guardian today about how it is impossible to eliminate risk through ever more administrative processes.

"Infanticide is an extremely rare crime in Britain, rarer by far than of old, but it does occur. The media's search for people to blame, other than the killers, reflects a strange obsession with securing an absolute avoidance of risk through ever tighter government control of personal and family life. Yet when such interference is visited on ordinary citizens they are enraged...

Baby P did not lack for attention or bureaucratic coordination, being seen 60 times by social and health workers. Each one meticulously recorded their concern... All appear to have conformed to Laming's procedures.

As the social work professor Harry Ferguson wrote in this paper yesterday, Baby P appears to have been a classic instance of administrative diktat superseding human intuition. The system becomes "too bureaucratised, too much about information management and not enough about focusing on core tasks and complex relationships with families". As the London School of Economics' Eileen Munro said on the radio: "Haringey had a beautiful paper trail of how they failed to protect this baby."...

When the human element in any frontline service gives way to quantifiable process, something crucial is lost. The belief has long been bred in the bone of the children's minister, Ed Balls, that any computer can solve the world's ills at the click of a mouse. It is a dangerous lie...

In every walk of life, the computer screen has become a professional comfort blanket. It distances carers from the sensibility of clients. It demotes the value of informal contact with colleagues. Provided the screen has been filled and the boxes ticked, officialdom regards itself as in the clear. Risk is eliminated not by personal application but by process.

The Baby P case appears to be the result of individual human failings all along the way. But the outcome will be to make social and health workers more obsessed with preventive intervention. Ever more children will be taken away from their parents because that is what the computer says. Ever more reports will be sent to ever more terminals and ever less time will be spent trying to understand problem families. "

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Positive moves on limitations and exceptions at WIPO

Unusually for a set of WIPO SCCR discussions, the developing nations and NGOs such as KEI and EFF have come away from the discussions with quite positive impressions (EFF's concerns about the broadcasting treay aside). The ICTSD has a succinct report on the discussions.

"Exceptions and limitations to copyright protection took a central place in the deliberations of WIPO’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), which met last week.

Under the chairmanship of Jukka Liedes of Finland, the committee spent a substantial part of its meeting examining exceptions and limitations for educational activities, libraries and the visually impaired. A proposal by the World Blind Union (WBU) for a treaty on exceptions and limitations to copyright law for the visually impaired received much attention.

Discussions on Exceptions and Limitations Continue

Exceptions and limitations to copyright allow individuals, under certain conditions, to use a work without requiring authorization from the copyright holder.

In 2003, Chile suggested discussing this issue at the SCCR and last March Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua and Uruguay put forward a proposal for a programme of work in this area including ultimately the possibility of elaborating an international instrument on exceptions and limitations which would include a mandatory set of exceptions and limitations common to all WIPO member states,

In this context, four WIPO-commissioned studies on‘exceptions and limitations’ were presented during “informative sessions” held before the formal start of the Committee’s session last Wednesday.

When the committee formally examined the issue, Chile suggested that a questionnaire regarding the national laws of member states be drafted and circulated to members so that they could compare national experiences and use the document as a guideline for elaborating best practices. The questionnaire would complement existing work and information on limitations and exceptions in national systems, the delegate said...

The proposal by the WBU for a WIPO treaty on Improved Access for Blind, Visually Impaired and other Reading Disabled Persons was the centre of much discussion at the meeting. The WBU argued that visually impaired persons in developed countries have very minimal access to copyrighted material and that the availability of such products is even more limited in developing countries. The proposed treaty sought to provide a minimum standard for limitations and exceptions for the visually impaired and to facilitate the import and export of works in accessible formats.

The WBU proposal garnered much support from member states from Latin American, African and Asian countries, as well as from all public interest non-governmental organisations present. "

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Obama on privacy

EPIC has been surveying Barack Obama's views on executive power and privacy.

"[1] Privacy '08: Election of Barack Obama to Be the 44th President

On January 20, 2009, President Elect Obama will become the 44th
President of the United States. Throughout his campaign for the
presidency, Senator Obama addressed the issues of privacy, Executive
Authority, and data protection beginning with the release of his
technology policy's position paper for his campaign in November 2007.
The technology policy position paper said, "Safeguard our Right to
Privacy: The open information platforms of the 21st century can also
tempt institutions to violate the privacy of citizens. As president,
Barack Obama will strengthen privacy protections for the digital age
and will harness the power of technology to hold government and
business accountable for violations of personal privacy."

In December 2007, Senator Obama, responsed to a Boston Globe
presidential candidate survey on presidential power. The survey
included a question on whether the president has inherent powers under
the Constitution to conduct surveillance for national security purposes
without judicial warrants. Senator Obama's reply rejected the assertion
that the President has the power by stating "The Supreme Court has
never held that the president has such powers. As president, I will
follow existing law, and when it comes to U.S. citizens and residents,
I will only authorize surveillance for national security purposes
consistent with FISA and other federal statutes." The survey asked a
question about presidential discretion, "Does the Constitution empower
the president to disregard a congressional statute limiting the
deployment of troops...?" Senator Obama responded that "No, the
President does not have that power."

In March 2008, it was disclosed that a State Department employee
repeatedly breached the passport files of Senators Clinton, McCain, and
Senator Obama. In response, Senator Obama spoke forcefully about the
privacy rights of data subjects and said that the matter should be
investigated "diligently and openly." He spoke of the need of the
American people to be secure in the belief that their records with
government agencies are kept private by saying, "One of the things that
the American people count on in their interactions with any level of
government is that if they have to disclose personal information, that
it will stay personal and stay private." Senator Obama also called for
the full participation of Congressional Oversight Committees in the
investigation, "I think that it should be done in conjunction with
those Congressional Committees that have oversight so that it is not
simply an internal matter. It is not because I have any particular
concern... but because we should have a set clear principles for
people having confidence that when they give information to their
government, that it is not going to be misused."

Senator Obama also spoke in support of medical and family privacy
when confronted by reporters for comment following the disclosure
that Governor Palin's unwed teenage daughter was pregnant, by saying
"Let me be as clear as possible. I think people's families are off-
imits, and people's children are especially off-limits. This shouldn't
be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Gov. Palin's
performance as governor or her potential performance as a vice
president." He ended his comments by saying, "My mother was eighteen
when she had me."

President-elect Obama, a former Constitutional law professor, in the
final debate prior to the election, expressed his position that the
"Constitution has a right to privacy in it that should not be subject
to state referenda."

Privacy emerged in other ways during the campaign, for example,
following her nomination, Governor Palin's personal e-mail account was
accessed by online snoopers. When accused of breaching local and state
government records related to a plumber repeatedly referenced by
Senator McCain during the final debate, Senate Obama said, "Invasions
of privacy should not be tolerated. If these records were accessed
inappropriately, it had nothing to do with our campaign and should be
investigated fully."

EPIC's Privacy '08 campaign enters the transition phase in preparation
for the next Administration. The campaign was successful in engaging
candidates in discussions related to privacy policy and the next
administration. The focus of the project now shifts to administration
transition and federal government institution reform.

Candidate Obama Statement on Technology

Obama's Replies to Boston Globe Survey on Executive Authority

EPIC Alert 15.07 passport breach of State Department Records:

Obama's Response to Data Breach:

Obama on Constitutional Right to Privacy:

Obama on family privacy:

Joe the Plumber Data Breaches:

Privacy '08 Facebook Cause:

Privacy '08 on Twitter:

Privacy '08 CafePress:"

As a former constitutional law professor he might be expected to take robust views on the protection of privacy. What will be interesting is what he does in practice, if anything, to reverse some of the broad based, arguably unconstitutional excesses of the Bush administration e.g. the mass executive-approved wiretapping (bypassing the FISA court) and the privacy invasion facilitated by the US-PATRIOT Act.

Argentina censors search engine results on public figures

The excellent OpenNet initiative at Harvard's Berkman Center has a fascinating story about Net censorship in Argentina.

"Since 2006, Internet users in Argentina have been blocked from searching for information about some of country's most notable individuals. Over 100 people have successfully secured temporary restraining orders that direct Google and Yahoo! Argentina to scrub the results of search queries. The list of censorship-seeking celebrities includes judges, public officials, models and actors, as well as the world-cup soccer star and national team head coach Diego Maradona.

Both Yahoo! and Google have implemented the court-order mandated filtering, although only Yahoo! has implemented complete blocking of all results for specific names. Both search engines have appealed the numerous restraining orders, and in a few cases, the firms have been fined for not sufficiently complying with some of the courts' censorship demands.

This is not the first time that a judge or government has tried to filter the Internet in an ill-considered way, an approach that is in the same stroke both disproportionately over-broad and ineffective. Recent examples of similar missteps include the blocking of scientist Richard Dawkins web site in Turkey and a US judge's order to shutter

The situation in Argentina is notable due to the fact that a search for many of the 100+ public figures on Yahoo! Argentina will result in zero results. That is, it is not a few particularly nasty or libelous results that have been removed, but all results for these celebrities, and anyone else unfortunate enough to share the same name, have been obscured from the Argentine web for those that rely on this search engine.

Try it yourself, and compare searches for Diego Maradona on Yahoo! Argentina (which blocks all results), as well as Yahoo! Mexico and Google Argentina (both of which do not block results).

In many cases, all of the search results for the public figures' names have been eliminated, while in others, only specific search results to pornographic, defamatory or copyright infringing websites have been removed. This is not just about tabloid celebrities; a central figure in this story is the judge María Servini de Cubría who has sought to block Internet content about herself that she finds personally offensive. Governments officials succeeding in limiting access to online information about themselves also sets a worrisome precedent.

All of the clients are represented a single lawyer, Martin Leguizamon Peña, who has claimed to have achieved a 80% success rate in obtaining restraining orders against Google and Yahoo!. Peña is also seeking compensation of 300,000 to 400,000 pesos ($90,000 to $120,000) from the search engines for each of his clients...

Even though the blacklist is easy to circumvent, it has the potential to cause significant collateral damage beyond those 100+ celebrities who have sought court orders. This is due to the simple fact that many of those individuals are unlikely to have unique names. Just as America's "no-fly list" has caused countless problems for innocent passengers who shared the name with someone else listed on the government's secret watch-list, so too does Argentina's Internet blacklist have the real potential to cause harm to others. These innocent people have now essentially vanished from a good portion of the Argentine Internet, simply because they happen to share their name with a celebrity."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

WIPO broadcasting treaty resurrected?

Gwen Hinze at the EFF is wondering if WIPO broadcasting treaty is getting resurrected.

"Despite the fact that there has been no agreement on fundamental elements of the treaty after over 10 years of negotiations, in March there was a concerted move to resurrect negotiations, led by the European Community and Japan, with support from a set of other countries. At the September 2008 WIPO General Assembly meeting, a number of WIPO national delegates expressed support for finalizing treaty negotiations. Then in October, the long-standing WIPO Copyright Committee Chair, Mr. Jukka Liedes of Finland, produced an "informal paper"

describing the process of negotiations so far, and proffered several options which would result in continuing discussions and finalization of the treaty.

Yesterday, the Broadcasting Treaty was the main topic of discussion at this week's meeting of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright in Geneva. In spite of the enthusiastic efforts of treaty supporters, consensus still seems quite a long way off...

As in previous meetings, the most contentious issue was whether the treaty should give broadcasters and cablecasters exclusive rights over Internet retransmissions of broadcast and cablecast content...

The US delegation said that if discussions are to continue, the treaty should include webcasting. This is a reversal of the United States' most recent position, and harks back to a May 2006 meeting, where it was agreed to take out webcasting and divide the treaty into two tracks -- first, a treaty on broadcasting and cablecasting, and then second, an instrument dealing with broadcasting on the Internet -- webcasting or "netcasting", as the US had wanted, and "simulcasting", as supported by the EU...

In other words, the US apparently wants to go back to 2006 and bring webcasting or "netcasting" back in to the treaty. Finally, in case there was any doubt, the North American Broadcasters' Association repeated that their strong preference is for a treaty with exclusive rights for broadcasters and extending to Internet retransmissions.

EFF and a diverse group of public interest NGOs, libraries and major U.S. tech industry players continue to oppose the current treaty draft because it's not limited to signal protection, but would instead create a new layer of exclusive intellectual property rights for broadcasters and cablecasters that would harm access to knowledge and consumers' existing rights under national copyright law, endanger citizen broadcasting on the Internet, raise competition policy concerns and stifle technological innovation. Here and here is the joint statement presented by that group to WIPO this week. And here's EFF's briefing paper on our concerns with the current treaty draft."

I'm not surprised the US have changed their stance again on the broadcasting treaty and we can expect that position to harden once the Obama administration takes office, given the strong connections between the entertainment industry and the Democratic Party. The US is increasingly irritated with the pace of developments at WIPO, however, so don't be surprised to find that this new layer of IP rights may appear in or become implemented through forums like the forthcoming ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement). Why drive it through the rough terrain at WIPO attempting to circumvent the objections of China, India, Brazil and the African nations when you can route it through the smooth agreeable highway paved by a self sellecting group like the US, EU, Japan and a handful of other nations with a positive IP balance of trade?

Update: The FFII are encouraging people to consider their (unsurprisingly negative) analysis of ACTA, since the EU Council of Ministers have just formally refused to release secret documents relating to the negotiations.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Google officials charged over taunting video in Italy

Italian prosecutors have reportedly charged Google executives over the posting of a video that showed a teenager with Downs syndrome being taunted by peers at a Turin school.