Friday, January 08, 2010

Landmark ECHR ruling on human trafficking

From the ECHR blog comes news of an important ruling on human trafficking.
"Yesterday, the European Court passed a landmark judgment on human trafficking in the case of Rantsev v. Cyprus and Russia. The case concerned the death of Oxana Rantseva and was brought by her father. Oxana moved from Russia to Cyprus and started to work as a 'cabaret artiste', as one of thousands of women coming to Cyprus. It was widely known that these 'artistes' were in practice mostly working as prostitutes. Within a few weeks she left the place where she worked, but was traced by her employer who brought her to the police with the aim of haiving her detained and extradited, so that he could employ someone else. The police noted that she was not illegally staying in Cyprus, but had a work permit and made her go back with her employer. Later that night, she tried to escape from the apartment where her employer was keeping her and in doing so fell of a balcony and died. In spite of the mysterious circumstances of her death, the context of possible human trafficking was never looked into by the authorities.

The Court found, unanimously, that trafficking in human beings, although not epxlicitly mentioned in the ECHR, fell within the scope of Article 4 (prohibition of slavery, servitude and forced labour). This is a rarely used Convention provision, on which there is only one earlier Court judgment in the context of human trafficking: the case of Siliadin v. France ( 73316/01) of 2005, in which the Court looked into a situation of girl from Africa held in servitude as a housemaid in France...
The judgment not only represents a milestone in the combat against human trafficking, but more generally elucidates state obligations in the battle against transational crime. It is commendable that the Court through its verdict offers new yardsticks to assess state performance in this respect.

To read the report by Interights on the case click here. This NGO also submitted a third pary submission to the Court, which can be read here. Even the Wall Street Journal reports on the case; click here."

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The backfiring of the surveillance state

Glenn Greenwald: The backfiring of the surveillance state
"Every debate over expanded government surveillance power is invariably framed as one of "security v. privacy and civil liberties" -- as though it's a given that increasing the Government's surveillance authorities will "make us safer."  But it has long been clear that the opposite is true.  As numerous experts (such as Rep. Rush Holt) have attempted, with futility, to explain, expanding the scope of raw intelligence data collected by our national security agencies invariably impedes rather than bolsters efforts to detect terrorist plots.  This is true for two reasons:  (1) eliminating strict content limits on what can be surveilled (along with enforcement safeguards, such as judicial warrants) means that government agents spend substantial time scrutinizing and sorting through communications and other information that have nothing to do with terrorism; and (2) increasing the quantity of what is collected makes it more difficult to find information relevant to actual terrorism plots."

Blackboard v Desire2Learn settled for good?

Just before Christmas Desire2Learn announced that all their outstanding legal disputes over the Blackboard patent had finally been settled.
"We just issued a press release that I'm sure will interest you.
We're delighted to announce this news of a resolution to all litigation between Blackboard Inc. and Desire2Learn Incorporated and its subsidiary D2L Ltd. This is in the best interest of our clients, the educational community and ourselves as we continue to serve you.
After several years of litigation, it's now time to concentrate on what we do best: software and services that help you in your mission of teaching and learning.
We've been encouraged by the support we've received throughout the past few years, from friends, strangers, partners, and the market in general. But none can match the support we've received from you, our clients, who have stood by us at every juncture. I'm also thankful for our awesome staff who have stayed focused on delivering on their objectives and have shown incredible resolve and innovation. The strongest steel is forged in the hottest of fires.
Our mission has never changed: To improve human potential globally by providing the most innovative technology for teaching and learning. Our vision has remained, as well, to be the global leader in providing eLearning solutions to help you, our clients, achieve your vision of transforming education.
We're truly appreciative of the ongoing support that you have provided throughout this process. We remain committed to collaborating with you, and know this agreement will enable us to continue to place you and education first and foremost.
We're financially strong and remain an independent company. We are increasing our efforts to offer new and innovative product releases and services to enhance learning and reduce the barriers to education for all. We are already excited about the upcoming launch of version 9.0 of our Learning Environment.
Consistent with our mission and vision, it's time for us to put the past behind us, and look to the future. As a result, we'll be taking down our patent blog tomorrow.
As is standard, the terms of the settlement are confidential. If, however, you have questions, please contact Diane Lank (, our General Counsel, or myself.
With warm wishes for this holiday season, and to an even better 2010 and beyond, I thank you for your tremendous support.

John Baker
President and CEO
Desire2Learn Incorporated"

War abroad testing ground for surveillance state apparatus at home

Welcome Home War! is a terrific article by Alfred McCoy on the development, testing and construction of the architecture of the surveillance state, which should be put in front of Gordon Brown the next time he thinks of deploying digital strip search machines.
"In his approach to National Security Agency surveillance, as well as CIA renditions, drone assassinations, and military detention, President Obama has to a surprising extent embraced the expanded executive powers championed by his conservative predecessor, George W. Bush. This bipartisan affirmation of the imperial executive could "reverberate for generations," warns Jack Balkin, a specialist on First Amendment freedoms at Yale Law School. And consider these but some of the early fruits from the hybrid seeds that the Global War on Terror has planted on American soil. Yet surprisingly few Americans seem aware of the toll that this already endless war has taken on our civil liberties.
Don't be too surprised, then, when, in the midst of some future crisis, advanced surveillance methods and other techniques developed in our recent counterinsurgency wars migrate from Baghdad, Falluja, and Kandahar to your hometown or urban neighborhood. And don't ever claim that nobody told you this could happen—at least not if you care to read on.
Think of our counterinsurgency wars abroad as so many living laboratories for the undermining of a democratic society at home, a process historians of such American wars can tell you has been going on for a long, long time. Counterintelligence innovations like centralized data, covert penetration, and disinformation developed during the Army's first protracted pacification campaign in a foreign land—the Philippines from 1898 to 1913—were repatriated to the United States during World War I, becoming the blueprint for an invasive internal security apparatus that persisted for the next half century...
Every American knows that we are supposedly fighting elsewhere to defend democracy here at home. Yet the crusade for democracy abroad, largely unsuccessful in its own right, has proven remarkably effective in building a technological template that could be just a few tweaks away from creating a domestic surveillance state—with omnipresent cameras, deep data-mining, nano-second biometric identification, and drone aircraft patrolling "the homeland."...
Sometime in 2002, President Bush gave the NSA secret, illegal orders to monitor private communications through the nation's telephone companies and its private financial transactions through SWIFT, an international bank clearinghouse... Congress quickly capitulated, first legalizing this illegal executive program and then granting cooperating phone companies immunity from civil suits...Now, for example, thanks to a top-secret NSA database called "Pinwale," analysts routinely scan countless "millions" of domestic electronic communications without much regard for whether they came from foreign or domestic sources.
Starting in 2004, the FBI launched an Investigative Data Warehouse as a "centralized repository for... counterterrorism." Within two years, it contained 659 million individual records... By 2009, when digital rights advocates sued for full disclosure, the database had already grown to over a billion documents.
And did this sacrifice of civil liberties make the United States a safer place? In July 2009, after a careful review of the electronic surveillance in these years, the inspectors general of the Defense Department, the Justice Department, the CIA, the NSA, and the Office of National Intelligence issued a report sharply critical of these secret efforts. Despite George W. Bush's claims that massive electronic surveillance had "helped prevent attacks," these auditors could not find any "specific instances" of this, concluding such surveillance had "generally played a limited role in the F.B.I.'s overall counterterrorism efforts.""
Read the article in full at Mother Jones.

Compulsory Licensing: Evidence from the Trading with the Enemy Act

A couple of Stanford academics have done some really interesting empirical research on the effects of compulsory licencing. Petra Moser and Alessandra Voena concluded that compulsory licensing increased domestic invention by at least 20 percent.Abstract:
"Compulsory licensing allows firms in developing countries to produce foreign-owned inventions without the consent of foreign patent owners. This paper uses an exogenous event of compulsory licensing after World War I under the Trading with the Enemy Act to examine the long run effects of compulsory licensing on domestic invention. Difference-in-differences analyses of nearly 200,000 chemical inventions suggest that compulsory licensing increased domestic invention by at least 20 percent."

Dilbert on value of IP

I really liked this Dilbert strip this week

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

UK privacy concerns impede strip search machines

The Washington Post has a nice article on the UK deployment of strip search machines at airports, UK privacy concerns likely to impede body scanners.
"Ian Dowty, legal adviser to Action on Rights for Children, said he believes it would be a criminal offense to operate the scanners or to direct anyone to operate them if they are used to produce images of children under the age of 18.
"If anything produces an indecent image of anyone under 18, that is unlawful and is in fact a criminal offense," he said. "As we've seen on the Internet, these machines clearly show genitalia, that in our view must result in an indecent image by any definition."
He said any new security apparatus must comply with British law as set by Parliament and that it is up to the legislature to consider whether to change the law to allow the new generation of full body scanners to operate...
Simon Davies, director of Privacy International... said that even if Brown persuades Parliament to modify British law to make the scanners acceptable that they would still be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, which would take precedence in this case."

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Government by fear

Gary Younge really captures the essence of the war on terror in his piece in yesterday's Guardian.
"So there was no ticking time bomb. No urgent need ever arose to torture anybody who was withholding crucial details, so that civilisation as we know it could be saved in the nick of time. No wires had to be tapped, special prisons erected or international accords violated. No innocent people had to be grabbed off the street in their home country, transported across the globe and waterboarded. Drones, daisy-cutters, invasions, occupations were, it has transpired, not necessary.
Indeed, when it actually came down to it, to forestall a near-calamitous terrorist atrocity in the US the authorities didn't even have to go in search of information or informants. The alleged terrorist's father came to the US embassy in Nigeria of his own free will and warned them that his son, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had disappeared and could be in the company of Yemeni terrorists...
To brand this near miss a "systemic failure", as Barack Obama has done, is both true and inadequate. It reduces the moral vacuity, political malevolence and enduring strategic recklessness that has been the enduring response to the 9/11 attacks to a question of managerial competence...
To galvanise the nation for war abroad and sedate it for repression at home, the previous administration constructed a terror threat that was ubiquitous in character, apocalyptic in scale and imminent in nature. Only then could they counterpose human rights against security as though they were not only contradictory but mutually exclusive." 
Gordon Brown's latest knee jerk reaction to the failed plane bomber - the promised widespread deployment of £100k digital strip search machines (they are not "body scanners") at all airports - is a clear indication that the stupidity at the heart of policymaking on this has not gone away.  And don't look to the opposition parties to change this - even the Liberal Democrat spokesman was complaining that the reason the latest bomber slipped past security was that the government had not deployed the strip search machines fast enough.

Well it could well be that the paranoia surrounding child protection is now going to clash with the paranoia surrounding terrorism as civil liberties groups have pointed out that the strip search machines breach child protection laws which ban the creation of indecent images of children. The government would seem to be nicely hoist by their own scaremongering pertard.