Sunday, April 30, 2006

ID cards no answer to prison fiasco

Charles ClarkeMichael Portillo is waiting for more government spin over the prison fiasco:

New Labour strategists will be looking to turn the prisoner disaster to advantage. They will soon be announcing that the debacle merely offers the proof that identity cards are needed. But the claim that identity cards would sort out the mess is bogus. Since the Home Office cannot handle 10,000 people held in prison, how would it cope with 60m people at large?

Not exactly counterfeit

Fortune has a fascinating article on problems that brand owners are having with perfect counterfeits being produced by the same factories to which they have outsourced production of their goods (via Open Rights Group):

"When you're outsourcing, you provide specifications, drawings, blueprints," says Peter Humphrey, who runs a risk-management firm in Shanghai called ChinaWhys. "What can easily happen is, someone takes it down the road to his brother or uncle," who also has a factory. "Before you know it, there's ten or 20 factories in that county making knockoffs of your product."

Labour isn't working

Tony BlairAndrew Rawnsley cannot believe the government's priorities:

They are pouring out legislation to monitor and regulate the lives of law-abiding citizens, including a complicated and expensive plan to make everyone buy an ID card. And yet the prison service and the immigration directorate are so spectacularly incompetent that they are incapable of tracking the release of known criminals, among them murderers, rapists and paedophiles.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Cutting down the over-mighty

Bryan GouldBryan Gould, a senior Labour figure who left for New Zealand a decade ago, is disappointed and disillusioned by the party leadership he left behind:

We see a Labour government which pays excessive attention to the powerful, both internationally and domestically, and which apparently believes that nothing can or should be done without their support. We see a Labour government that is prepared to endanger the democratic process and civil liberties by placing the interests of government and other big players ahead of those of ordinary people. We see a Labour government that has pursued an economic policy that favours asset-holders but jeopardises the jobs of those who make and sell things, a government that has – in areas like education – re-introduced unwelcome and unnecessary divisions, a government that apparently distrusts the idea of community and collective organisation, and prefers to entrust the functioning of society to the unchallenged market-place.

My own political philosophy is based on a distrust of power wherever it resides — in government (pace the Tory party) or in mega-corporations (pace old Labour). With New Labour, it seems we have the worst of both worlds — an obsession with strengthening state power while at the same time kowtowing to Rupert Murdoch, Lakshmi Mittal and other titans of global industry.

Can David Cameron refashion the Conservative party into an advocate against an over-mighty state and global cartels?

Designer chavs

Burberry ChavIt has always struck me that trademark law should go no further than ensuring that customers are not deceived about the manufacturers of goods. It would be wonderfully subversive of the ludicrous designer fashion culture if chavs were legally able to buy for a few pounds products emblazoned with Chanel, Prada, Gucci etc. logos. Janice Turner agrees:

A REPORT by lawyers Davenport Lyons reveals that ever more of us are buying fake designer goods. Previously labels such as Gucci and Chanel, warned us that counterfeit bags or sunglasses were inferior to the real thing. But it seems we don’t care: trends now change so quickly, why spend £800 on a one-season wonder when the knock-off costs £80? So now the designers are trying to prey on our consciences, arguing that fakes are manufactured by poor Chinese sweatshop workers tyrannised by traffickers in humans and drugs. So it is unethical not to pay stupid prices. Maybe I’ll believe it when the designer whingers show me their smiling seamstresses in airy modern factories and prove they pay them a living wage.

Tony Blair, your time is up

Tony BlairMatthew Paris thinks that the moment has come for the Labour party to dispatch Tony Blair:

The Prime Minister has left our planet. He is delusional. If the week just passed cannot convince him that his time is over, nothing will.

You go, grannies!

Raging grannies
The Raging Grannies of Tucson and related groups are making the news with their protests against the Iraq war. Now the New York Grandmothers Against the War have been acquitted after protesting outside a military recruitment centre:

Banners held by sympathisers outside the Manhattan courtroom read "Arrest Bush, Free the Grannies" and "Can't whip the insurgents? Whip Grannies!"

Friday, April 28, 2006

Have you seen this pothead?

University of Colorado police are fighting a vital battle in the War on Drugs. They are offering $50 rewards to anyone who identifies these evil-doer students smoking cannabis at a festival held in a university field. Don't these teenagers realise they might as well hand fifty dollar bills directly to Osama bin Laden?

Intel: abandon the Broadcast Treaty

IntelIntel has tried to inject some reality on the proposed Broadcasting Treaty into the World Intellectual Property Organisation, which proceeds in its happy alternative universe where the only interests that count are those of large intellectual property holders:

Intel opposes the WIPO Broadcast Treaty. Proponents have not demonstrated that the benefits of creating new exclusive rights outweigh the burdens that these new rights impose… Intel believes that efforts to enact the WIPO Broadcast Treaty should be abandoned.

Nor is John Naughton impressed:

When I first saw the draft… I assumed it must have been written by executives at Fox, NBC and other US TV networks while high on cocaine, because it read like a wish-list of everything a failing industry could want to protect it from the future.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Bush calls cabinet meeting to get story straight

The Onion has a report from an anonymous source on Bush's latest Cabinet meeting:

"The e-mail server crashed during Katrina, the dog chewed up our files on the Plame leak, and no one ever told me that the illegal wiretapping was illegal. Right, boys?" Added Bush: "Remember, we're all really on a picnic at Camp David right now." Bush has held 17 Cabinet meetings to get the story straight since 2001, surpassing the previous record, held by the Reagan administration.

Most EU govts complicit in US torture flights

CIA planeAn interim report from the European Parliament on EU governments' complicity with US torture flights has some shocking conclusions:

"After 9/11, within the framework of the fight against terrorism, the violation of human and fundamental rights was not isolated or an excessive measure confined to a short period of time, but rather a widespread regular practice in which the majority of European countries were involved."

Go now, Charles Clarke

Charles ClarkeThe Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and even some Labour MPs are now calling for the Home Secretary to take some responsibility for the monstrous failures of the Home Office and resign:

The laxity of the government over foreign nationals in jails was also underlined by Sir David Ramsbotham, the chief inspector of prisons until 2001. He said he had revealed the general problem of the deportation of foreign nationals in prison as far back as 1996, and highlighted it in detail in his final annual report in 2001. Describing the Home Office as "a monster", he complained the department had no structure to deal with specific groups of prisoners, including foreign nationals.

Spot the real pirate

Arrrrr! The Consumer Electronics Association is standing up for its customers against crazed copyright law proposals in the US (via Boing Boing):

"Our nation's leadership in innovation is being threatened by the content industry's campaign to extend intellectual property law so as to grant them the right to dictate the design of technology. The content industry's campaign is to the detriment of consumers, business and the nation's economy. It's time for them to stop.

Passing HR 1201 would be a good first step to cleaning up this mess. This bill would merely ensure that consumers, libraries, and educators can use new technology without threat of liability, so long as they don't violate the copyright law."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Incompetent, sleazy, authoritarian liars

Charles Clarke is watching you!Labour's death rattle grows ever louder, with 900 foreign criminals "lost" by the Home Office and yet another sleaze story, this time from the deputy prime minister. But the Guardian thinks that their creeping authoritarianism is the real reason they should go:

Rhetoric can be as important as laws in undermining civil rights. Tony Blair and his first two home secretaries openly advocated re-writing the 1951 Geneva Convention protecting refugees. Mr Blair went one step further with foolish talk of replacing the criminal justice system with a victims' justice system. The founding principle of the current system is that it does not favour either side but remains strictly independent, objective and neutral. Ministers have refused to recognise the dangers of Asbos, despite warnings by senior advisers. The data registrar has expressed concern about the dangers of "a surveillance society" should more information be allowed on the new ID cards. Labour's "tough on crime" laws helped push up prison numbers by 25,000 in a decade, compared to an increase of just 11,000 in four decades between 1951-1991. To deny the above changes are not evidence of "creeping authoritarianism" is perverse.

Commenter Kimpatsu agrees:

Always call a spade a spade. Always tell it like it is. Always name Charles Clarke for the disingenuous authoritarian liar that he is.

Simon Jenkins thinks that Clarke and Blair are laughable:

When cabinet ministers are too gutless to admit they lied about weapons of mass destruction, when they call Iraq an "unreported success" and when they refer to the totalitarian monstrosity of Guantánamo Bay as an "anomaly", sympathy goes by the board.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Public Administration Committee criticises Abolition of Parliament bill

Tony Wright MPThe Commons Public Administration Committee says that the government must seriously limit the powers in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform bill:

"As currently drafted, the bill gives the government powers which are entirely disproportionate to its stated aims.

"The government has undertaken to amend it and must do so to ensure that by the time it leaves this House, it provides adequate safeguards against the misuse of the order-making powers."

Look out, there's a safety elephant on the rampage

Beserk elephant
Chris Lightfoot picks through the assorted lies contained in yesterday's hour-long whine from Charles Clarke (thanks, Steve!):

I've been driven to write by an idiotic speech by that right herbert, our very own Safety Elephant, the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke. Earlier this evening he spoke at the LSE on the subject of "The media and civil liberties"; his basic thesis being that New Labour hasn't eroded our civil liberties and anyway it's only doing it for our own safety.

The speech is remarkable in that almost every factual assertion Clarke made about the recent legislation of his department was false. Even for a modern Home Secretary this is a remarkable achievement — the sort of thing better left to Prime Ministers.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Clarke: poisonous liberal media are to blame (for everything)

Charles Clark
Charles Clark has taken some time off from destroying civil liberties to criticise the "poisonous" liberal media for their criticism of his… destroying civil liberties. Tory Home Affairs spokesman David Davies found that rather hilarious:

"Charles Clarke should realise that you don't defend our way of life by sacrificing our way of life. The evidence shows that in many cases, things that have been enacted in the name of defending our security have actually done nothing to protect the people, and have even resulted in consequences entirely contrary to the government's own intentions.

"It is remarkable that he has chosen to blame the media - especially as his whole strategy seems designed to achieve good headlines for the government rather than effective policies to protect the citizens of this country."

Blair's authoritarian populism is indefensible and dangerous

Crossed lines?Jenni Russell thinks that the Prime Minister is either ignorant or disingenuous in his anti-liberties crusade:

Winston Churchill spoke of the need "to proclaim, in fearless tones, the great principles of freedom and the rights of man … Magna Carta, habeas corpus, trial by jury and the common law". These principles were, said Churchill, "the title deeds of freedom … Here is the message of the British and American people to mankind. Let us preach what we practice: let us practice what we preach."

As Blair, too, preaches the spread of western values, he ought to remember what they really mean.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

EU research wants to be free

Matthew CockerillA European Commission report has recommended that the results of EU-funded research should be published openly on the Internet, as did the UK's Research Councils last year (via A2K). Large scientific publishers are of course horrified at the threat to their extremely substantial profits, but most scientists support the idea:

Matthew Cockerill said of the EC report: "It confirms what BioMed Central has been saying for some time - that scientists and funders are getting a poor deal from the traditional publishing system, which delivers limited access at high cost."

What is access to knowledge?

Jack BalkinFrom Jack Balkin's opening speech at Yale's Access to Knowledge conference (via A2K):

The best information policies, the best knowledge policies, the best development policies actually lower barriers to access to knowledge, they produce more information goods and they distribute them more widely. Our seminar has been trying to show how the best economic arguments are on our side. The crazy thing about the push toward global harmonization and IP maximalism is that it doesn't make economic sense. It benefits particular stakeholders, to be sure, and they often claim that making them wealthy makes everyone else better off. But it turns out it's not true. A more balanced set of IP policies actually produces greater wealth and distributes it more widely and fairly.

Even Howard would blush at these reforms

Michael HowardMary Riddell finds Charles Clarke's latest cobbled-together assaults on the law hard to believe:

Jails crammed almost beyond capacity plus the rule of law itself are being tested to near breaking point by a Home Secretary who, through populism or disregard for the legal process, is trampling on his own necessary dreams. That is the Charles Clarke paradox. Would his most rabid Tory predecessor have floated last week's measures? Michael Howard would not have dared.

Vote blue, get green

Dave the ChameleonMichael Portillo thinks that Labour is making a mistake in attacking David Cameron as a chameleon:

Until Cameron went wheel-less on the Norwegian ice, the pictures of him arriving at parliament on his bicycle had been the most successful piece of political propaganda for years. One snapshot of his two-wheeler on our front pages suggested that he is young, unpompous, unaffected by success, keen to keep fit, concerned about the planet and a Tory leader like no other. Six messages from one photo is good going. So the last thing that Labour should do is remind the public that Dave rides a bike.

Is Dave the Chameleon related to Ken the Newt?!

UPDATE: Andrew Rawnsley shares Portillo's view.

Blair doesn't know where to start on liberty

Tony BlairThe Observer has a rather revealing exchange of e-mails between their columnist Henry Porter and Tony Blair on civil liberties. The Dear Leader says:

"Frankly it's difficult to know where to start, given the mishmash of misunderstanding, gross exaggeration and things that are just plain wrong."

I found this rather interesting: "Last week senior Tories launched a new grouping, Conservative Liberty Forum, with the blessing of David Cameron, which will debate issues ranging from CCTV to anti-terror legislation, and advise his policy review on fresh ideas to promote liberty." The website seems to be but down right now! I will investigate further :)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

NHS agrees with need for NPfIT audit

NHSIt seems that the meeting between the head of Connecting for Health and the 23 professors that called for an independent audit of the programme was surprisingly productive:

At the meeting on 20 April between the six representatives of the 23 signatories and NHS Connecting for Health a constructive and fruitful dialogue occurred.

The representatives expressed their agreement with and support for the overall goals of the programme as expressed in the meeting. There was agreement that a constructive and pragmatic independent review of the programme could be valuable. The parties agreed to meet again to consider further details of how such a review might best be conducted and its terms of reference.

Guantánamo Bay is a stain on American justice

Lord SteynLord Steyn's speech to the Atlee Foundation on the rule of law has now been published by the Guardian. He does not mince words:

Guantánamo Bay will forever be a historical reference point for our time. It is a stain on American justice. Only the present US administration tries to defend the utterly indefensible. Unfortunately, our prime minister is not prepared to go further than to say that Guantánamo Bay is an understandable anomaly. In its feebleness, this response to a flagrant breach of the rule of law, reminiscent of the worst actions of totalitarian states, is shaming for our country.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Teach evolution as fact

Church of the Flying Spaghetti MonsterDr Richard Pike, chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, says that we should stop kowtowing to creationists by talking about evolution as an "idea" or "theory" that should be taught alongside such nonsense as Intelligent Design:

"Above all, we should no longer talk of the theory of evolution as though it is 'just an idea'. So well-established is it, that it now warrants the designation of an immutable scientific law, and should be taught as such. It is on this basis that further dialogue should begin."

Thursday, April 20, 2006

ID management at your service
I spent this morning at an IAAC workshop on cross-border identity management. It was very interesting to hear from French and Austrian government representatives about their countries' e-government identity schemes. Both take data protection issues seriously (unlike the UK Identity Card and Register), assigning separate identifiers within each government agency to citizens and limiting the means by which those identifiers can be correlated. In Austria's case, correlation requires the cooperation of the data protection commission. In France, the government's system uses Liberty Alliance technology so that only users can correlate these identifiers. Both systems offer clear points at which further Privacy Enhancing Technologies could be introduced.

It's heartening to see that other governments do not think that privacy and information technology are mutually exclusive. Now we just have to convince ours of this fact.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Communism is good, mmm'kay?

Where is Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, going today?

1. Open source software is a "cancer" and "communist".

Steve Ballmer and Hu Jintao
2. Well hello President Hu Jintao of China!

Scottie, you've done a helluva job

DubyaAccepting his spokesman Scott McLellan's resignation, Bush holds out a hugely tempting prospect:

"One of these days, he and I are going to be rocking in chairs in Texas and talking about the good old days."

Let's hope "one of these days" comes sooner rather than later.

£51 for 10 years of freedom

Renew for freedom!
No2ID has launched a campaign to get every UK citizen to renew their passport during May 2006. Those who do will avoid (at least hopefully for ten years) the various impositions related to the introduction of the "voluntary" national ID card and register, such as the requirement to turn up at a passport office to have irises and fingerprints scanned. Then when the Tories and Liberal Democrats come to power at the next general election, they can abolish the bloody thing forthwith.

UPDATE: you can pledge your support to this campaign at PledgeBank.

European Data Protection Supervisor releases annual report

Peter HustinxThe European Data Protection Supervisor has released his annual report:

It is clear that the agenda of the EDPS as a legislative advisor is largely determined by the work programme of the Commission. It is quite likely that the mid and long term focus will partially shift towards:

  • the theme 'prosperity', where the EDPS will follow further initiatives towards the development of a European Information Society.

  • the theme 'security', where the EDPS will follow developments in relation to technological developments such as biometrics and the growing pressures on public and private controllers of databases to allow access for law enforcement purposes. In his context, the Commission presented as a key initiative the access by police forces to databases for external border control.

A musician writes

Cliff RichardSir Clifford Richard has been whining all over the airwaves that the copyright is about to expire in his 1950s sound recordings. He seems to think this is some kind of tragedy.

Louis Barfe, a composer and performer, has a different perspective (via Open Rights Group):

To extend the copyright period in sound recordings would make an already complacent industry even more unbearably smug, and give a clear signal that they can get exactly what they want if they whine loud enough. The losers will be the artists who continue to have their back catalogue sat on by the fat corporate arse of the record companies, the small record companies who have made available numerous archive recordings that have passed into the public domain (which would almost certainly not be made available any other way), and, of course, the general record-buying public.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Freedom dies quietly

John PilgerJohn Pilger is as disgusted as ever by Tony Blair's henchmen:

Like the constitution-hijacking bill now reaching its final stages, and the criminalising of peaceful protest, ID cards are designed to control the lives of ordinary citizens (as well as enrich the new Labour-favoured companies that will build the computer systems). A small, determined and profoundly undemocratic group is killing freedom in Britain, just as it has killed literally in Iraq. That is the news. "The kaleidoscope has been shaken," said Blair at the 2001 Labour party conference. "The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us reorder this world around us."

Harnessing the benefits of openness

CED chairmenThe Committee for Economic Development, a major-league US business lobby, has published a hard-hitting report on the advantages of openness (via Open Rights Group). The report's authors include such well-known communists as Citigroup's CTO and IBM's Senior VP for Research. Their key recommendations:

  • Because of the advantages of open standards, the Council recommends that governments encourage the development and use of open standards through processes as open to participation and contribution as possible. The Council believes that the participation of civil society would be beneficial in the formation of standards with important social consequences. The Council also recommends that the results of government-supported research be readily available for inclusion in open standards, as they have been in areas such as grid computing.

  • The Council believes that, rather than replacing one another, proprietary software and open source software will co-exist, with each playing an appropriate role in the information and communication technologies (ICT) environment. The Council opposes any requirement forcing governments to make purchasing decisions based on the licensing system used. It recommends that the U.S. government not advocate purchases based on any particular licensing scheme—proprietary or open.

  • The Council believes there are certain critical functions of government that should be conducted solely with interoperable technology; in these critical areas, no citizen should be required to use the hardware or software of any particular vendor. The Council recommends that the United States support such interoperability requirements in international procurement as well. The Council also recommends that international agreements entered into by the United States regarding intellectual property should reflect the nation’s historically balanced intellectual property regime reflecting the interests of both first and follow on innovators.

  • In order to foster open innovation, the Council recommends not only that the NIH should continue their efforts to expand the dissemination of the research they support, but also that other federally funded, unclassified research should be made broadly available. Consistent with the position it has taken in its earlier reports, the Council recommends that any legislation or regulation regarding intellectual property rights be weighed with a presumption against the granting of new rights. The burden of proof should be on proponents of new rights to demonstrate with rigorous analysis the necessity of such an extension, because of the benefits to society of further innovation through greater access to technology.

  • Finally, the Council suggests that the National Science Foundation (NSF) fund research into alternative compensation methods, similar to those created to facilitate the growth of radio, to reward creators of digital information products and accommodate the changes brought about by the digitization and growth of the Internet.

Labour party ID Act spam

The Labour party is trying to reduce the political damage they have caused through their bludgeoning of the ID Cards Act through Parliament. Below is the letter that poodle MPs have been given to customise and use to spam their constituents.

How many times does Labour think they have to repeat lies that ID cards "cut crime, reduce identity theft and prevent illegal immigration" before people will believe them?

Draft ID Cards direct mail

Dear <>

I am writing to update you on the ID Cards Act as this is an issue that you have contacted me about previously.

The Tories and the Lib Dems used the unelected House of Lords to stop the ID Cards Bill becoming law. It went back to the House of Commons, delaying the process further. I voted again for the Bill and happily on 29 March the House of Lords finally stopped delaying the process.

Identity fraud, illegal immigration, benefit abuse and national security represent some of the biggest political challenges of the 21st century. In a rapidly changing world we all face increased threats to our communities, particularly from criminals who make money by stealing people's personal information. I believe that it is the duty of Government to do all it can to protect our country from these threats in a manner that is consistent with our cherished freedoms.

Making your views count

I believe that ID Cards are important to the people of <> and the UK. And as you know <> people in <> wanted the government to introduce ID cards.

I will make sure that I represent your views about ID Cards and make sure they are introduced as soon as possible. That's why I voted for the ID cards bill when it was put before parliament. I've come to the conclusion that in order to cut crime, reduce identity theft and prevent illegal immigration we need this legislation.

I will make sure you are kept up to date on this important issue.

Yours etc.

Monday, April 17, 2006

UK govt supports Saudi torturers

Christopher GreenwoodNot wanting to be inconsistent with their support for American torturers at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, the UK government is to argue at the House of Lords next week that Saudi officials accused of torture should be immune from civil actions:

Christopher Greenwood QC, the international lawyer who advised the attorney-general that the Iraq war was lawful, will argue for the British government, which has intervened in support of Saudi Arabian officials accused of detaining and torturing four Britons in Saudi jails.

A glut of knowledge

WikipediaAndrew Orlowski has a typically trollish article in the Guardian criticising Wikipedia. I wrote the following comment to the editor:

Andrew Orlowski's article "A thirst for knowledge" (13 April) seems to boil down to the following:

1. The president and previous editor-in-chief of Encyclopaedia Britannica dislike claims made in Nature that it is of similar quality to its free rival, Wikipedia. Rather than backing up these concerns in a peer-reviewed article published by one of the world's leading scientific journals, they pick figures such as "31% less reliable" out of the air. They then add largely irrelevant concerns such as writing quality and over-the-top claims of "gross offences against publishing."

2. Contradicting his previous claims on quality, the president of Encyclopaedia Britannica then criticises the Internet for a homogeneity of discourse. That seems a breathtakingly ignorant claim; and one that in no way, of course, applies to his own encyclopaedia.

3. The American Library Association's president makes the claim that "No one would tell you a student using Google today is producing work as good as they were 20 years ago using printed sources." Ah, that golden age when all students' information needs were funded through the university library budget.

4. Will Davies notes that the Internet "hasn't made us addicted to education." How odd to imagine that it was intended to do so.

5. Orlowski concludes by claiming that a better model is to fund libraries to pay large fees to provide their users with access to commercial databases. Why should this be the case for many of the databases which contain information that is gradually moving to free access online, such as law reports, mapping data and academic publications?

It is also odd that an article premised on the essential poor quality of Wikipedia fails to mention the move towards adding expert review in systems such as Digital Universe. Maybe this was to do with the article's own homogeneity of discourse. Why didn't it quote positive views from anyone at Wikipedia, or indeed anywhere else?

Overall, an extremely unenlightening piece.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

You've been a very naughty expert

Richard GrangerThe Sunday Times has good coverage today of the problems of the NHS National Programme for IT, now renamed Connecting for Health. The system installed at Oxford's trailblazing Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre failed after a couple of days. Estimates for the total cost of the scheme are heading for £30BN (a five-fold increase from the original price). Prof. Ross Anderson commented: "What they are proposing is a recipe for chaos and disaster."

I'm sure the Home Office will not be making the same mistakes with the National Identity Register.

Twenty-three professors of computer science called just last week for an independent audit of the scheme. The head of Connecting for Health has written to these experts inviting them to a good telling off, sorry lecture, sorry "interactive discussion". What was he thinking of to include the following paragraph?

Given the importance you have placed on making this public statement, I am copying this letter to the head of your department and will make it publicly available.

What a bizarre misconception of the way that university departments work...

Big Brother, We Hardly Knew Ye

George OrwellWalter Kirn thinks that the the combination of Americans' natural exhibitionism and the Internet is killing privacy. I'm not sure if the behaviour he describes isn't just a passing phase as the world adjusts to "social" web sites and their ilk. Once the teenagers and undergraduates gratuitously flaunting the most private aspects of their lives online start to experience some of the consequences during their adult lives, they might start to care slightly more about their privacy.

Ed Felten had some interesting thoughts on this recently. Just like him, you might have noticed that I do not reveal a huge amount of personal information on this blog beyond my political opinions. I don't intend to start any time soon.

Blair may look busted but he’s going for the jackpot

Michael PortilloFormer Cabinet minister Michael Portillo is worried that Tony Blair will turn the current loans for lordships scandal to his advantage, using it to force through state funding of political parties and the reform of the House of Lords into a compliant government poodle in the mould of the House of Commons:

Blair now sees that the unwelcome by-product of the appointed Lords is that it allows in experienced people of independent mind. Being life peers they are not reliant on Labour for re-selection. An elected Lords will be different.

It will not attract those scientists, High Court judges and academics who have stood up for civil liberties and repeatedly rejected the government’s populist and authoritarian bills brought forward in the name of fighting terrorism. No retired field marshal will step forward at the polls, and so the government will in future be spared the embarrassment of valiant men who have commanded in battle attacking its policy in Iraq…

As the outcome to his latest political scandal, that would be truly shocking.

Blair gets away with his assault on liberty, because we let him

Lord SteynHenry Porter barely dares to hope that the government's retreat last week on the Abolition of Parliament bill presages growing public awareness of the government's assault on freedom:

If the majority of us would care a little more that 24,000 innocent minors had been compelled to provide their DNA to the police data- base; that large numbers of juveniles are given custodial sentences for breaching antisocial behaviour orders when the original act which earned them an Asbo in the first place is rarely a criminal offence; that the DNA of 40 per cent of all black males is retained by the police, while just 10 per cent of white men have been required to provide theirs; that Asbo and terrorism laws are being used to suppress freedom of association and environmental and political protest; that the prison population rose last week to 77,141, which is 17,000 more than when Blair came into power - exactly the number of men now forced to share cells that were built for single occupancy for 22 hours day - then we might have some impact on the government's policies.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

French competition law will not promote piracy

DRM is killing musicMore anti-competitive nonsense from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, this time about French proposals to require the manufacturers of Digital Rights Management systems to allow other systems to interoperate with their technology:

[DRM] allows Apple to constrain the use of the songs to certified software and devices, giving them more control over the listener’s experience. It also puts a damper on illegal copying and distribution, giving the record companies who license Apple to sell the songs some peace of mind.

This line (which has also been spun by the US Secretary of Commerce) shows total ignorance of how computer security systems work. Rather than relying on obscurity of their underlying technology, well-designed security systems prevent unauthorised access to data using secret encryption keys. Publishing details of the system's design usually increases security because it allows third parties to verify the security of the scheme. Apple would be forced by the French law to publish details of their DRM design, not the keys that restrict access to music downloaded through their iTunes system.

The real threat from the French proposal is to Apple's business model, which locks iTunes customers to expensive iPods. How ironic that the French parliament is giving lessons to the American government and certain think-tanks on competition and capitalism.

Expanding the Market’s Role in Advancing Intellectual Property

PC PlodThe Competitive Enterprise Institute has just published a confused paper on modern copyright law. (How can an organisation with "competitive" in their name campaign for less antitrust law enforcement?) However, it makes some good points, including the following — which is particularly pertinent to the EU's recent Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive and forthcoming EU efforts to criminalise copyright infringement:

An important question in the copyright debate is: To what degree should copyright holders—artists, their agents, and the content industries—who choose to use the force of the state to protect their intellectual property pay for the assistance? Rights to tangible, physical property are held by virtually everyone who pays taxes and their protection is paid for by funds from the general tax pool. So is intellectual property, which is held only by a relative few. Yet the present legal-financial structure, with enforcement costs socialized across all taxpayers, encourages large intellectual property holders to push for the expansion of rights at general expense. As it stands, present copyright fees don’t even cover the operating budget of the Library of Congress’ copyright office, much less the costs of the intellectual property-enforcement arms of the FBI and Department of Justice.

BPI spouting nonsense

International Talk Like A Pirate DayAnalyst Mark Mulligan says that the BPI's file sharing scare stories are, quite simply, junk:

They claim that file sharing has cost the UK music industry 1.1 billion pounds over the last 3 years. That is simply not the case. The UK music industry in 2002 was worth just over 2 billion pounds. In 2005 it was worth 1.85 billion. That is a total cumulative decrease of 0.29 billion. Where’s the extra 0.81 billion? …

The BPI should
a) know better than to infer that consumer survey data is actual national market revenue data (however much it might help their PR push)
b) accept the fact that there are many bigger reasons impact declining music sales (prices too high, physical piracy (a MUCH bigger factor according to sister organization IFPI), competing expenditure (DVDs, games consoles etc.)

Friday, April 14, 2006

AT&T's Big Brother machine

The EFF's class action lawsuit is gathering pace against AT&T for their collaboration with the US National Security Agency's massive and illegal wiretapping of domestic communications.

The power of the machines being used to analyse Internet communications flowing across AT&T's network is breathtaking. They can monitor OC-192 links (10 Gigabits/s) and extract all manner of data:

Narus Intercept Suite
Packet-level, flow-level, and application-level usage information is captured and analyzed as well as raw user session packets for forensic analysis, surveillance or in satisfying regulatory compliance for lawful intercept.

The Lawful Intercept module offers carriers and service providers compliance with regulatory requirements regarding lawful intercept. The Lawful Intercept module provides an end-to-end solution consisting of Administration, Access and Delivery functions. The Lawful Intercept module is compliant with CALEA and ETSI standards. It can be seamlessly integrated with third party products for testing/validation or as a complete law enforcement solution.

The Directed Analysis module seamlessly integrates with NarusInsight Secure Suite or other DDoS, intrusion or anomaly detection systems, securely providing analysts with real-time, surgical targeting of suspect information (from flow to application to full packets). The Directed Analyis module provides industry standard formats and offers tools for archival and integration with third party investigative tools.

These capabilities include playback of streaming media (i.e. VoIP), rendering of web pages, examination of e-mail and the ability to analyze the payload/attachments of e-mail or file transfer protocols. Narus partner products offer the ability to quickly analyze information collected by the Directed Analysis or Lawful Intercept modules. When Narus partners' powerful analytic tools are combined with the surgical targeting and real-time collection capabilities of Directed Analysis and Lawful Intercept modules, analysts or law enforcement agents are provided capabilities that have been unavailable thus far.

You can be sure this type of equipment will be foisted on UK Internet Service Providers by the Home Office using s.12 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

Is NHS database illegal?

NHS Connecting for HealthDr Paul Thornton writes:

The Government’s proposals for computerised National NHS Patient Records carry grave & imminent risks for both civil liberties and public health. They need urgent independent judicial review. The legal justifications used to substantiate their proposals are untested in the courts and require independent judicial clarification...

Please do not store my medical records in your leaky information systems

I have finally had time to reply to the NHS's stonewalling letter regarding their storage of personal information relating to my medical history.

Dear Mr Jordan,

Thank you for your letter of 2 February, which contained much useful information about the National Care Records Service. I will indeed be exercising the option you outline to prevent any of my personal information being held within the NCRS, whether or not the NHS feels that is "appropriate."

However, my concerns about the centralised storage of sensitive medical information by the NHS go much further than the NCRS, as do the NHS's information systems. I repeat my request from the letter I sent you last December (copy below): please acknowledge and confirm that the NHS will comply with that request.

Yours sincerely,

Ian Brown.

The Secretary of State for Health
Richmond House
79 Whitehall
London SW1A 2NL

I object strongly to my medical records being available to anyone except those who need them in order to provide me with medical care. I opt out of all other uses of them as far as I can, and I spell out the details in the following paragraphs.

I have noted the severe misgivings about NHS databases expressed at the national General Practitioners' conference (LMC 2005), and so I am exercising my opt-out rights - as Caroline Flint assured the House of Commons of the 16th June 2005 that I would be able to do.

Please instruct all data controllers within the NHS who may hold identifiable information about me that I am opting out of all secondary processing of my personal health information to the greatest extent permitted by law.

I consent to medical record information being stored and processed on computers that are under the direct control of the general practice with which I am registered, and that are located on the premises of that practice.

Where the NHS provides healthcare to me in any other setting, such as a hospital, I consent to information being stored and processed in computers which can only be accessed by staff directly employed in the same clinical setting. I also consent for relevant and necessary information to be sent electronically between a general practice with which I am registered and other providers for the purposes of my individual care, such as pathology reports and referral letters, when required and on request. This may include transmission by electronic means provided that the information is not stored or made available to any third party (including yourself) by the use of any intermediate or service computers.

Any access to my information shall only be made for the purposes of my own health care, and by staff of appropriate qualification and grade who access the information with my informed consent. My consent to information sharing may be treated as implied in respect of any clinician treating me, and in respect of staff under the direct supervision and control of that clinician (including secretaries and trainees), but may not be treated as implied in respect of any other person.

I do not consent to my data being held on computers which are accessible, physically or electronically, to workers elsewhere, even within the National Health Service. I specifically do not consent, and formally object, to the storage or processing of any health information identifying me on the Care Records Service, the NHS-Wide Clearing Service, or the Hospital Episode Statistics service. If you wish to keep any of my personal health information on record-keeping services provided to general practice by primary care trusts, then my express written consent must be sought. I do not consent to the processing of my personal health data by the Prescription Pricing Authority (PPA) database beyond that which is mandatory in law. I wish to place on record that I find all mandatory sharing of personal health information with persons not involved directly in my care - including the retention of PPA data beyond the period required for pharmacists to be paid - to be a distressing infringement of my rights.

Any previously provided, explicit, documented consent to the release of my personal health information for research purposes remains valid. Otherwise, my specific consent must be sought for all further processing of identifiable information in all other circumstances or where there is uncertainty.

I would regard any processing of my data outside of the terms of this instruction as "unfair" and "causing distress" in the terms of the Data Protection Act.

Will you kindly acknowledge that you have received this letter and that you will comply with my instructions.

Ian Brown

Fire and brimstone rain down from Blair

Niccolo MachiavelliSimon Jenkins thinks that we are living in a bizarre reprise of 15th-century Florence. He certainly has an interesting solution in mind:

We too are told of plagues and potent enemies. Terrorists, "thousands of them", threaten us on all sides. Charles Clarke's agents roam the streets, seizing Muslims and imposing Asbos on the ungodly. The prime minister hides from assassins behind the ever-higher walls of Downing Street, where he reportedly takes instruction from a Franciscan friar. Pleas go out to the church to set up faith schools in British cities. Small wonder that a Fife swan reduces John Humphrys and the BBC news department to gibbering hysteria…

We meekly let ministers claim that they alone know, as if from on high, what is safe and right for us. We should be dropping lumps of concrete on their heads.

(Ooooops, didn't we both just break the new prohibition on the "glorification" of terrorism? Will the Guardian and Blogger both be banished from the UK Internet?)

This is a clash of reason and superstition

Preach it!Blair and his cronies are extremely careful to moderate their public religious pronouncements, although his spinmeister Alistair Campbell had to remind an interviewer that "we don't do God" and could barely restrain Blair from ending his Iraq war announcement with "God bless you." But this fanaticism is the only way that the government's craze for segregated religious schools can be explained. As Polly Toynbee comments:

How odd that in this heathen nation of empty pews, where churches' bare, ruined choirs are converted into luxury loft living, a Labour government - yes, a Labour government - is deliberately creating a huge expansion of faith schools. There is all the difference in the world between teaching children about religion and handing them over to be taught by the religious. Just when faith turns hot and dangerous, threatening life and limb again, the government responds by encouraging more of it and more religious segregation. If ever there was a time to set out the unequivocal value of a secular state, it must be now.

UK DNA database dwarves others

DNA database sizeNew Home Office figures show that the government's national DNA database is over five times larger than the nearest overseas equivalents (thanks, Dave!). This is not surprising when you consider that anyone arrested in the UK can have DNA samples taken, regardless of whether they are charged or convicted.

Charles Clark will probably see these figures as a massive tribute to New Labour's authoritarian crime policies. I think they're a good reason to leave the country until his party is booted from power.

Nuclear power a dangerous non-option

Remains of Chernobyl reactorA parliamentary committee undertaking a review of energy policy has come out decisively against a new generation of nuclear power stations:

"If Blair is right that the world has changed, then it must apply to this area as well."

Professor Keith Barnham, energy security consultant and emeritus professor of Physics at Imperial College London, told the committee: "The possible outcome of a terrorist attack is so terrible that we feel it has to be faced up to before any new build. Basically, we have so many potential targets as a result of the waste policy."

Faced with such clear-cut evidence, Blair will doubtless continue on the path he seems to have already chosen — skewing the energy market in favour of expensive and dangerous nuclear power, and renewing Britain's nuclear weapons capability.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

German music industry demands intrusive new powers

Hannes FederrathThe music industry in Germany is demanding that it get new powers to obtain personal information about alleged file-sharers from Internet Service Providers (thanks, Dave!). They are even calling for the early implementation of the data retention directive, which is targeted at terrorist offenses, to help track down file sharers:

Such demands by the media industry have raised the shackles of European data protectionists, among others. Hannes Federrath, Professor of Information Security Management at the University of Regensburg reminded representatives of rights holders at the event in Munich that "What you are demanding here goes beyond what prosecutors of consumers of child pornography get."

Video blogs face EU rules threat

Viviane RedingThe European commission is busy trying to misapply broadcasting regulations to the entirely different medium of the Internet. For once, the UK government is doing the right thing and trying to force amendments:

The European Commission wants to update the 17-year-old Television Without Frontiers Directive and include for the first time rules to govern “non-linear audio visual services” — video on demand and internet broadcasting.

The proposed rules for new media are intended to be light-touch, but would require commercial video bloggers and other video website owners to respect rules governing incite- ment to hatred and child protection. Ofcom, though, said that bringing video blogs into a regulatory net originally designed for traditional television broadcasters was excessive. Both the UK regulator and British ministers believe that Europe’s plans should not include internet content in their scope.