Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Govt announces e-voting pilot locations

The Department for Constitutional Affairs has announced the location of e-voting pilots being run by UK local authorities this May. The Open Rights Group is not impressed.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

HBOS sends woman 75,000 account details


It's data protection day!

Our Information Commissioner's Office had the ideal way to celebrate yesterday's Data Protection Day. They sent out advice to local councils on how to abuse personal information held for council tax purposes.

Your weight is unacceptable. Wear this yellow star

Eh-oh!"The enlightened thin do not seem to be getting much radio time at the moment. Those sucking up the oxygen of publicity, as well as most of the air in the room, would appear to be from an SS Infanterie Truppen wing of slightness, whose response to what they have (somewhat lazily) styled the obesity crisis is a lurch nearer to the wearing of yellow stars for anyone with a BMI that does not meet the approval of whatever celebrity charlatan the BBC is paying to bully telly-tubbies this week. Fat Men Can’t Hunt. You Are What You Eat. Fat Camp. Tax the Fat. Coming soon: Gas the Fat. Go on, you know you want to." —Martin Samuel

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Attack of the fat police

Children are now being listed alongside victims of child abuse because their parents are letting them become obese. This is both a grotesque intrusion into private family life, and likely to distract official attention away from real victims of abuse — leading to more cases such as Victoria Climbié.

More on John Reid's brain

John Reid's missing brain

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Another one bites the dust

John Reid"One line in which this Government has specialised over the past benighted decade has been the personal humiliation of so many who have participated in it. Their names trip off the tongue — Mandelson, Ron Brown, Blunkett, Mandelson again, Blunkett again … and now John Reid. Thuggish Glaswegian ex-drunk Dr Reid (and, don't forget, that doctorate is a sign of his high intelligence) is at least distinct from so many of his fellow sufferers. While they succumbed to carnal or financial temptations, he has been far more straightforward. He has been a loud-mouthed, incompetent berk." —Simon Heffer

Blair's grotesque youth justice legacy

Nick Clegg“It remains one of the most grotesque legacies of Tony Blair’s decade-long experiment in media-driven populism that generations of young people have been summarily demonised and driven towards criminality, rather than brought back from the brink of a life of crime.” —Nick Clegg MP, Lib Dem home affairs spokesman

Friday, January 26, 2007

EU consumer groups join forces in DRM battle

Bjørn Erik ThonConsumer ombudsmen and campaigning groups in Norway, Finland, France and Germany have joined forces in an effort to force iTunes and other digital music stores to use interoperable Digital Rights Management systems. They are also insisting that Apple remove onerous contract clauses that deny consumers their rights under national law.

Combined with recent APIG and Gowers labelling recommendations, companies selling locked-up media are going to have to treat their customers much more carefully in future.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Gone skiin'

Skiing dinosaur
Blogzilla is off to Chamonix for a few days' skiing. ¡Hasta la vista, amigos!

Police bat away the spin machine

Len DuvallThe Metropolitan police are not letting the New Labour spin machine get in the way of their investigation of lordships-for-lucre. Metropolitan Police Authority chairman Len Duvall says:

"People like Blunkett, Puttnam and Jowell ought to be very careful about rushing in to make any statements at this moment. At an appropriate time, stuff will go into the public domain that will justify the police’s approach.

“When information comes into the public domain they will need to reflect very carefully on what they have said in the past 24 hours. I think they are going to look f****** stupid. Quite frankly, this is a mess created by the people involved in the situation. This childish, ‘we’re being picked on’ [attitude] is like Big Brother.”

David Blunkett as Lego

David Blunkett legoI think Mr Blunkett could have done so much more good for the country as a Lego figure (via Boing Boing).

Saturday, January 20, 2007

When copyright crazies attack

Toine Manders MEPThe copyright crazies are at it again. This time, Toine Manders MEP is trying to amend the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Directive to introduce criminal sanctions for downloading infringing works. Which other crimes would Manders like the police to stop investigating in order to bust down the bedroom door of teenage filesharers?

Mac OS X appallingly unstable

Safari crash
Mac OS X is boosted all over the Internet as super-secure and stable compared to Windows. In my experience since getting a MacBook in October, Windows crashes far less often. My Mac won't even come out of standby 25% of the time, necessitating a hard reset. And its applications crash far more often — here you can see what happened when I tried to browse a link from Boing Boing using Safari. I might eventually be tempted to install Windows instead.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Non-conclusion from a non-meeting: the Titanic is sinking!

The TitanicIt is dizzying trying to follow the swirl of non-papers, non-conclusions and related paraphenalia of the WIPO special meeting on the Broadcasting Treaty. Ever-vigilant Thiru Balasubramaniam of CPTech writes:

With Mr. Jukka Liedes, the Finnish chair, steering the helm, it seems that our tanker will soon hit an iceberg, with devastating consequences to follow. Informal afternoon and night sessions on the second day interspersed with pizza, beer, and wine provided gratis by the Secretariat excluded NGOs from the deliberations. During the informals on the second day, parties close to the deliberations informed your blogger that many hours were spent on the what the "objectives" of a treaty for the protection of broadcasting organizations are. After 9 years of deliberations starting in 1998 in the Philippines, it is heartening to know that this Committee is finally considering the "objectives" of a broadcast treaty. Rather than a negotiation between WIPO Member States, the tenor of the special session thus far can be characterized by pedantic, monotone lectures by Chair Liedes boring the Committee into submission. As Brazil and India have noted, the non-papers circulated in a haphazard manner have no legal status and cannot be considered as a basis for negotiations.

As my colleague Manon Ress pointed out, the Chair circulated draft conclusions this morning on the final day of the first special session. Judging be the lack of a rapturous welcome that these conclusions received by such States as Brazil and India, it seems our captain is intent on scuttling his ship before he would truly guide this Committee to genuinely comport with the instructions of the General Assembly to adopted a signal-based approach.

India vs. Big Brother

Open letter to Jade GoodyIt seems that India is the only party to have emerged with any credibility from the vile circus that is Channel 4's Big Brother freak show.

Now, could the media stop filling our papers and TV screens with "news" of this contrived garbage?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Holocaust denial ban would be a serious mistake

Brigitte Zypries"Nine EU member states currently have laws against Holocaust denial: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. That happens to be a list of countries with some of the strongest rightwing xenophobic parties in the EU, from France's National Front and the Vlaams Belang in Belgium to the NPD in Germany and the Greater Romania party. Self-evidently those parties don't exist as a result of Holocaust denial laws. Indeed, the existence of such parties is one of the reasons given for having the laws, but the laws have obviously not prevented their vigorous and dangerous growth. If anything, the bans and resulting court cases have given them a nimbus of persecution, that far-right populists love to exploit…

"The approach advocated by the German justice minister also reeks of the nanny state. It speaks in the name of freedom but does not trust people to exercise freedom responsibly. Citizens are to be treated as children, guided and guarded at every turn. Indeed, the more I look at what Zypries does and says, the more she seems to me the personification of the contemporary European nanny state. It's no accident that she has also been closely involved in extending German law to allow more bugging of private homes. Vertrauen ist gut, Kontrolle ist besser (trust is good, control is better). Isn't that another mistake Germany made in the past?" —Timothy Garton Ash

Jukka on the rampage again

Jukka LiedesJukka Liedes, chairman-for-life of WIPO's Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights, is again riding a cart and horse through his committee members' views on the proposed Broadcasting Treaty (via A2K). Riaz Taybo writes:

At this week's Special Session, the Chairman has sought to drive the discussions in the direction favoured by him by presenting three new non-papers reflecting his views, rather than the basic text which reflects the viewpoints of various groups of countries. The Chairman's presentation of the non-papers led to confusion as to which document is to be the basis for discussions at the 3-day Special Session.

Several key delegations raised their dissatisfaction with the method of work of the Chairman, in particular, the 3 non-papers presented for discussion and stressed that the focus should be on the WIPO General Assembly (GA) decision which guides what the special session should discuss and the document that is to be the basis of discussion.

Damning report released on Electoral Commission

The Committee on Standards in Public Life has released a damning report on the performance of the Electoral Commission (via Open Rights Group). Committee chairman Sir Alistair Graham said:

“Evidence to our inquiry demonstrated that the Commission should have shown greater focus and courage in alerting the risk to the integrity of the electoral process from legislative changes, principally the lack of safeguards against electoral fraud with the introduction of postal voting on demand. "

The Commission has also played a very weak role in warning of the problems of electronic voting, allowing a range of government trials to go ahead. Hopefully Sir Alistair's recommendations for radical reform will be implemented and we will see a much more proactive approach to electoral fraud in future.

If you want to find out more about e-voting, ORG is holding a week of events from 6 February.

School fingerprinting horse has bolted

Children being fingerprintedThe Information Commissioner's Office has shrugged that so many schools are now fingerprinting their pupils that there isn't much it can do (via Open Rights Group). Tell headteachers that collecting children's biometrics in order to police library lending and school meals is ever-so-slightly disproportionate, perhaps?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Blair ♥ surveillance society

CCTV camerasThe Daily Telegraph reports that a new policy discussion paper from the government goes further than ever before with Blair's Orwellian vision of the UK:

The most controversial paper dealing with law and order acknowledges that there will have to be "trade-offs" between liberty and security as technology and profiling are used to reduce crime…

The policy paper confirmed the Government's objective of creating a surveillance society despite Mr Blair's denials of a "Big Brother" state. It said new anti-crime measures include face and voice recognition, a DNA database, identity cards, microchip monitoring and satellite surveillance — and confirmed that Britain has the most public CCTV systems in Europe.

Perhaps the good people of Lewes would like to contribute to this debate?

"Lewes is a combination of a large number of people who are well-organised, intelligent and dislike being told what to do and if you add that to the high number of people who have a lot of skill with small explosives then this is the effect." —Councillor Ruth O'Keeffe

War on Drugs: drugs still winning

Orlando Patterson"America's unwillingness to recognize the socioeconomic context of the drug crisis at home and abroad, to see that being surrounded by failing states threatens its security, to provide aid where it is most effective, and to acknowledge that the root cause of this hemispheric disaster is not supply but its own citizens' insatiable demand for illicit drugs, is as incomprehensible as the quagmire in Iraq." —Prof. Orlando Patterson (via Andrew Sullivan)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Computer spells woe

"Is it worth reminding the government of the point of privacy, and why its protection is so eminently worth the price of non-joined-up government record-keeping? It might be an instructive exercise for Mr Blair to be asked these questions: can he explain why every human rights convention specifies a right to privacy as fundamental? Can he see any connection between the right - the need - the value - of privacy to Prince William's girlfriend, which one assumes he supports, and the general principle of privacy for every other citizen in the state? Does he understand that according rights and liberties to individuals carries a cost, which is that it is harder for government and the police to keep tabs on people, including the greater inconvenience of catching criminals, and that this is a cost worth paying? Is it conceivable that he might be able to see matters for one moment not from the point of view of what makes the work of policemen and bureaucrats easier, but from the point of view of individuals who do not wish to be monitored objects in a system of surveillance, like cattle in a herd with their ears punch-labelled?

"Alas, one can exactly imagine how he would dodge these questions, and even the hand movements he would make while doing so." —A.C. Grayling (via Action on Rights for Children)

Dump those EMI shares!

Alan McGeeAlan McGee, founder of influential indie label Creation, thinks that you should sell your record industry shares:

"It's a great time for music. But the record companies have finally worked out they're on the losing team. Whether you do it yourself through MySpace, or on a label, the record is just the smallest part. It's all based on a model born of the 1970s and 1980s. It doesn't apply to 2007."

This, just before EMI fired two of its top executives over falling revenue and saw shares plunge 7 per cent.

Regardless of their competence, the rise of the legal download market will be a big problem for any company that relies on album sales. In the past, they managed to charge upwards of £15 for an album. Now most consumers will instead pay 79p for the two or three tracks they like. There goes the music industry's ability to price discriminate using bundling. Fortunately it will also reduce the monopoly power of the existing majors commented on in Bernt Hugenholtz's recent report to the European Commission.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Wholesale surveillance

"Technology is fundamentally changing the nature of surveillance. Years ago, surveillance meant trench-coated detectives following people down streets. It was laborious and expensive and was used only when there was reasonable suspicion of a crime. Modern surveillance is the policeman with a license-plate scanner, or even a remote license-plate scanner mounted on a traffic light and a policeman sitting at a computer in the station.

"It's the same, but it's completely different. It's wholesale surveillance. And it disrupts the balance between the powers of the police and the rights of the people." —Bruce Schneier

UK will leave question of term extension to EU

Minister for Science and Innovation Malcolm Wicks MP has confirmed that the UK government will be leaving the question of copyright term extension in sound recordings to the European Commission (via Open Rights Group):

The Gowers Review looked at the term of protection for sound recordings and performers’ rights in sound recordings very closely and commissioned an economic study to assist them in examining this question. The issue of the term of protection for such works is a matter of EU competency. That is why the recommendation of the Gowers Review is made to the European Commission.

The Commission will be looking at the issue of copyright term for sound recordings as part of its work programme in 2007. It will be up to the Commission to evaluate both the Gowers analysis and any further work in this area when it considers this question.

Let's hope the Commission is reading its own research.

Pete WishartIncidentally, MP and has-been member of Scottish band Runrig Pete Wishart thinks that Andrew Gowers was brainwashed by some evil digital rights groups:
All the open right groups and digital right groups that have emerged in the past few years have been able cleverly to suggest that this has all been about the big bad music industry and its multimillion pound musician chums. I think that Gowers bought into the perception that that was what term extension is all about

EU report rejects copyright extension

Bernt HugenholtzA report commissioned by the European Commission has rejected term extension in even stronger terms than the report for the UK government by Andrew Gowers. Of course, the report was coordinated by that well known copyright "thinker" Prof. Bernt Hugenholtz, chair of the European Commission's Legal Advisory Board IP task force, so will be of little interest to the music industry:

The authors of this study are not convinced by the arguments made in favour of a term extension. The term of protection currently laid down in the Term Directive (50 years from fixation or other triggering event) is already well above the minimum standard of the Rome Convention (20 years), and substantially longer than the terms that previously existed in many Member States. Stakeholders have based their claim mainly on a comparison with the law of the United States, where sound recordings are protected under copyright law for exceptionally long terms (life plus 70 years or, in case of works for hire, 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation). Perceived from an international perspective the American terms are anomalous and cannot serve as a legal justification for extending the terms of related rights in the EU…

The market dominance of the ‘majors’ is an economic factor to be taken into consideration. A term extension would in all likelihood strengthen and prolong this market dominance to the detriment of free competition…

The fact that some recordings still have economic value as rights therein expire, cannot in itself provide a justification for extending the term of protection. Related rights were designed as incentives to invest, without unduly restricting competition, not as full-fledged property rights aimed at preserving ‘value’ in perpetuity. The term of related rights must reflect a balance between incentive and market freedom. This balance will be upset when terms are extended for the mere reason that content subject to expiration still has market value. The public domain is not merely a graveyard of recordings that have lost all value in the market place. It is also an essential source of inspiration to subsequent creators, innovators and distributors. Without content that still triggers the public imagination a robust public domain cannot exist.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Attack of the zombie computers is a growing threat

ZombieThe New York Times has an interesting story today on botnets, armies of infected PCs that are used to send spam and launch denial of service attacks. It quotes a recent report that found that one botnet consisting of 793 computers had gathered 54,926 log-in credentials and 281 credit-card numbers. The stolen information affected 1,239 companies, including 35 stock brokerages, 86 bank accounts, 174 e-commerce accounts and 245 e-mail accounts.

You can read my review of a collection of essays on legal and economic mechanisms to tackle these and other computer security problems that appears in this month's Law Quarterly Review.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Yet more of the ID card scheme dropped

irisAfter the National Identity Register, the next component of the proposed UK ID card to have been dropped is iris recognition.

Interesting that we are edging closer and closer to minimal international requirements. We are now getting near to the EU Schengen biometric passport standard, which features fingerprints and digital photographs. Of course, since the UK is not a part of the Schengen agreement, all we actually need are digital photos on a chip in our passports to comply with the International Civil Aviation Organisation standards.

Join No2ID to help push the government to this next stage!

Why is sensitive information still being taken home on laptops?

NationwideI received an interesting letter from the Nationwide building society this week:

Earlier this year a laptop computer belonging to the Society was stolen from an employee's home in a domestic burglary. The laptop contained some customer information to be used mainly for marketing purposes.

Why are organisations still enabling employees to take sensitive information home on laptops where it can be lost or stolen? Never mind banks, this has happened several times over the last few years to MI5, MI6 and the CIA.

Even so, it is good news that Nationwide has notified affected customers. This should be a requirement of the Data Protection Act, as it is in Californian law.

In related news, UK banks have rejected calls from the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee to publish information on levels of security.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Connecting for Health director damaging own credibility

Richard GraingerHow can NHS Connecting for Health director Richard Grainger expect to be taken seriously when he meets entirely justified concerns over database security with this kind of bluster?

"Concerns about data security may be marshalled by an active lobby of healthy sceptics to the detriment of the ill, and avoidable fatalities will result."

Shroud-waving, ad hominen and entirely missing the point.

2007 will be year of DRM-free music

Avast, me hearties!Michael Geist points out a useful Billboard survey of DRM-free music downloads:

In 2007, the majors will get the message, and the DRM wall will begin to crumble. Why? Because they'll no longer be able to point to a growing digital marketplace as justification that DRM works. Revenue from digital downloads and mobile content is expected to be flat or, in some cases, decline next year. If the digital market does in fact stall, alternatives to DRM will look much more attractive.

We should not allow the music industry to ascribe declining revenues to "piracy." It is inevitable that in an increasingly crowded entertainment marketplace, some consumer revenue will shift to ever-cheaper DVDs, games and other competition for their eyeballs. The growing availability of user-generated content will also reduce the amount that consumers are willing to spend on paid-for product.

Everywhere else in the economy this is known as the creative destruction of capitalism. Odd that music industry executives are so unhappy about its effects on their own bottom line.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Pretentious? Moi?

Went for a very refreshing New Year's Day walk along the Thames and through Clerkenwell yesterday. Along the way popped in to the Tate Modern to see the latest Turbine Hall exhibition: Carsten Höller's slides, snaking down from the upper floors. Sadly, they were accompanied by an early entry for Private Eye's Pseud of the Year award:

For Carsten Höller, the experience of sliding is best summed up in a phrase by the French writer Roger Caillois as a 'voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind…' How might a daily dose of sliding affect the way we perceive the world? Can slides become part of our experiential and architectural life?

This bollocks was accompanied by some laughable corporate crap from sponsors Unilever:
Like all great artists Höller invites us to see the world differently. Through his use of slides and his fascination with communal human experience we are invited to take part, thus completing the artwork through our involvement.

This is an exploration that resonates within Unilever. An understanding of human nature is vital to a business that aspires to meet the everyday needs of consumers with products that make people feel good, look good and get more out of life.

Creativity and vitality are important parts of Unilever's corporate mission and lie at the heart of everything Unilever does and everything we produce: from Dove and Flora to Wall's ice cream.

Slides and Wall's ice cream: both priceless contributions to the nation's culture.

Non-voters get the government that they deserve

Tony Blair"As communal bodies command ever less confidence, people fortify themselves behind a narrow perimeter of trust, defined by family and friends. This is, of course, bad news for democracy. If voters decline to participate in political institutions, or to address any issues beyond those that influence their immediate welfare, we can scarcely be surprised that Tony Blair remains prime minister, even after inflicting on this country the worst foreign policy disaster of modern times." —Max Hastings

Monday, January 01, 2007

The shame of punishment as pornography

"Once we decided Saddam was a 'monster' – a monster whom, let's not forget, the West for a long time supported in full knowledge of the nature of his regime – we gave ourselves permission to indulge the basest, most voyeuristic atavism. Cloaked in this murderous sanctimony, we join as one with the crowds who gather weekly in Teheran to enjoy watching criminals swing from a crane." —Sam Leith

Sinister security

Brussels has signed a new deal giving the US government access to information on passengers flying to or through America, including credit card and e-mail details. The Telegraph does not approve:

While this dragnet will affect only a small number of the four million British citizens who fly to America each year, it is nevertheless an ominous intrusion into personal privacy. Security services will always want access to as much information about individuals as possible. That is the nature of the beast. It is up to politicians to rein them in. In this instance, the politicians have failed us. But it is no surprise that the Labour Government has endorsed these measures (which have been divulged only because of a Freedom of Information request). For Tony Blair has used the terrorist threat as the excuse for an unparalleled assault on individual freedom in this country, from ID cards to a national DNA database, from biometric recognition to the proliferation of CCTV cameras. Why should he care if our closest ally joins the fun?