Saturday, June 30, 2007

It's the Quartet's fifth horseman

"There were those who were quick to imply that he was in fact the least appropriate candidate for the job in the known universe. This is patently not the case. The least appropriate candidate for the job is the chap in whose gift it seemingly was, though Mr Blair admittedly runs a close enough second. It was ever thus: only this February his Texan friend pipped him to the post in an Arab opinion poll to establish the most disliked world leader." —Marina Hyde

Happy 10th birthday Hong Kong SAR!

Hong Kong Island at night
It is ten years since Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty. So far, under Deng Xiaoping's "one country, two systems" regime, HK has remained a vibrant global titan. Hong Kongers have seen off Chinese attempts to pass "anti-subversion" laws. Hopefully, democracy will come soon.

After all of my travels, HK is still definitely my favourite city after London!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Music retailers attack free Prince CD

PrinceMusic stores are going ballistic at a move by Prince to release his new album as a free CD attached to the Mail on Sunday. Entertainment Retailers' Association capo Paul Quirk said:

"The Artist Formerly Known as Prince should know that with behaviour like this he will soon be the Artist Formerly Available in Record Stores. And I say that to all the other artists who may be tempted to dally with the Mail on Sunday."

Swimming with the fishes-type threats are not going to change the economics driving this move. Competition from digital downloads (which strip out the album bloat from profits), the Internet and other new forms of entertainment are putting severe pressure on recorded music revenues. Artists are therefore focusing more effort on touring, sponsorship, merchandising and other more profitable activities.

Releasing your latest album to the multi-million readership of a Sunday newspaper therefore seems an entirely sensible way to build profile and hence revenues from these other business opportunities.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

On the unreliability of computers

Speaking of unreliable voting machines: one cause is the bloated, unnecessary complexity of many systems. Crashed cash machines and airport information systems are commonplace, although today was the first time I have seen a crashed supermarket till:

Crashed Sainsbury's till
Not to pick on Windows in particular, but why on earth is a till running a fully-fledged consumer operating system like Windows 2000? Why didn't the designers use something smaller, simpler and much more appropriate — like the free Minimal Real-Time OS?

One reason is the almost-zero marginal cost of software. Having spent hundreds of millions of dollars on developing an operating system, software companies sensibly try to sell that software into every possible market. While the consequences may not be enormous for a supermarket, I am rather less sanguine about (to pick one example) Windows NT for Battleships.

Reframing e-voting

"Computers routinely suffer glitches, reboots, hacks and other vulnerabilities. There is no evidence computerized voting systems are an exception to the rule. In fact, because of their scarcity of use and the secretive nature of election officials and voting machine manufacturers, the computers that run and decide our elections are more prone to having problems that are never revealed to the public." —Paul Jacobs (thanks, Louise!)

Medicine for poppies

"The Foreign Office stolidly insists that poppy eradication, coupled with improved law enforcement and better managed rural aid, is the only approach. This is whistling in the Afghan wind. Eradication is worse than ineffective; it dangerously alienates villagers whose first or perhaps only contact with central government is the convoy that rips up their means of survival. Without counting the gangsters who dominate the traffic, opium involves 2.9 million Afghans in cultivation and another 225,000 traders — 14 per cent of the total population. So many people cannot be treated as criminals. Nato refuses, with reason, to be directly involved in eradication; inflicting ruin on the people you are there to protect is no way to 'win hearts and minds'." —Rosemary Righter

UPDATE: Timothy Garton Ash and Anatole Kaletsky describe some of the consequences of the moronic "war on drugs."

ContactPoint extends surveillance society

"A conclusion which it is hard to avoid is that the government has cynically used the issue of child abuse and neglect as a pretext to extend the surveillance society to those under 18, whose privacy is now seriously threatened by this sinister Orwellian development." —Chris Mills

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Is Facebook violating EU privacy rules?

Almost certainly (thanks, Dave!).

It's quite amazing that Facebook have made such a trivial error in their security architecture. It could be just as trivially fixed (by preventing searches having access to information that would not be displayed to the searcher). We will see how seriously Facebook take their users' privacy by how quickly they do this.

In general, I don't think it's a good idea to put information into social networking sites like Facebook that you wouldn't be happy for your parents, employer and local police to read…

UPDATE: Excellent post from Lilian on the legal implications.

Bored with politics? Shut up, then

"Nobody wants to look fusty, so everybody's trying to think outside the box. Bored with politics? Try an internet poll! Try a survey on your mobile! Have a forum, have a focus group, have a demo, say your piece, get heard, this is the listening government…

"It's dishonest: the correct answer is, bored with politics? Shut up, then. Get used to your economic status. Bored with middle-class men? Vote them out. They're only there by mandate, they have no superhuman powers. Bored with tax solutions? Well, they are boring. But they're also the only solutions. Why do you think people got so fired up about them in the 70s? It wasn't because they enjoyed being bored." —Zoe Williams

Holy Roman Blair

"Are we missing something about Tony Blair's departure from office? He concedes a new framework for Europe's government and then races overnight to the Vatican to consult the Pope. He tosses his seals of office to an acolyte and goes on to the Holy Land to continue his bloodthirsty crusade against the infidel. Is Blair auditioning for Charlemagne? Is he, as I have long suspected, a secret Knight of the Middle Way, an initiate into the mysteries of holy spin, pledged to return the Golden Waffle to the sacred sofa of SW1?" —Simon Jenkins

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Call for evidence on ContactPoint regulations

The House of Lords committee that examines secondary legislation has called for evidence on the just-laid ContactPoint regulations. The Children Act 2004 Information Database (England) Regulations 2007 would allow the government to operate a database on all 11 million children in the UK. The database would contain details of police officers, social service workers and other state employees that have had contact with each child.

As I wrote with FIPR colleagues last year in a report for the Information Commissioner, this database risks exposing sensitive information on children to hundreds of thousands of government officials — along with hackers and anyone else who can get illicit access. It also risks stigmatising children who have had problems earlier in life, and will distract attention away from those children at risk of abuse.

Rather than sitting at a desk tapping away at a database, most teachers, police officers and social workers we interviewed would prefer to work directly with families to help them support their children. In cases of suspected abuse, police need to be involved immediately — not alerted through a central database. This is made much more difficult if social workers are flooded with information on the four million children expected to be highlighted in the database, rather than the much smaller number of child protection cases.

Monday, June 25, 2007

How is govt accessing private FIPR e-mail?

For the second time in a month, we have seen Labour politicians reading out in Parliament private e-mail between the advisory council of the Foundation for Information Policy Research. Former health minister Lord Warner told the Lords on 21 June:

An energetic presence in this network is a Cambridge professor called Ross Anderson. Some interesting e-mails of his have found their way to me. One e-mail of 27 November 2006 says:
"The Big Opt Out org will be a separate campaign (which many of us help). The principal organiser is Helen Wilkinson"—

who I believe is a Conservative councillor. Another e-mail, of 13 February, talks about,
"how we might put the IC on the spot".

The IC is of course the Information Commissioner. Another e-mail, of 8 March, after Professor Anderson had been asked to be an adviser to the Health Select Committee, says:
"Well I said yes on the grounds that I can probably do more on the inside than on the outside".

Another e-mail which I particularly like is of 24 May 2007, sent after a lunch with Conservative front-bench spokesman Damien Green MP, who is quoted as saying,
"the Tories had taken an uncharacteristically principled line on the ID card and now felt exposed".

Ross was asked to provide some other arguments—a little less principled, I assume. Finally, in a quote from an e-mail of 20 December 2006, we have something a little closer to home:
"After speaking to Andrew Lansley, Tim Loughton, Malcolm Harbour and Lord Lucas I'm maybe starting to get the message across".

I have insufficient time to entertain the House with more extracts. I am willing to let them be seen on a private basis by my honourable friend in the other place who chairs the Health Select Committee.

This follows a pronouncement from Andrew Miller MP to the Commons on 6 June:

The Foundation for Information Policy Research, which was referred to earlier, recently received an e-mail from Ross Anderson saying:
"I've been asked, much to my surprise, to be one of the Health Select Committee's special advisors for their enquiry into the Electronic Patient Record. I pointed out to them that I have 'form'".

Well, he has. He continues:
"I'm a member of the Gang of 23",

along with Professor Sampson who Conservative Members seem never to have heard of. Professor Anderson continued:
"I support TheBigOptOut."

In response to a subsequent exchange, he says:
"I hope that Archrights will write to the committee"—

the Health Committee—
"expressing its view on the ethics, legality and operational desirability of having all English children's medical records sitting on half a dozen big server farms, linked in to all sorts of interesting database apps for everything from cancer research (sob sob) to the prediction of antisocial behaviour (identify Tory voters at birth and ASBO them)"

This follows the earlier leak of a FIPR briefing document to the Conservatives on health policy. Public Health Minister Caroline Flint MP told the Commons on 24 April:
We are delivering connecting for health on time and on budget—but perhaps the hon. Gentleman's question was written by Professor Ross Anderson, who is an independent adviser on IT to the Select Committee on Health. Among a number of suggestions for Conservative party policy, he proposed a fresh look at IT policy, suggesting that in each civil service department there should be a chief information officer at grade 1 and that
"the top 50 per cent. performers should expect a knighthood"

based on their IT advice. If that is the best advice that the Opposition can obtain for operating a modern Government using the modern technology necessary for our public services, so help them.

Answers on a postcard please!

Cleaning the Augean stables of Washington

"We cannot settle for a second Gilded Age in America. And yet we find ourselves once more in the midst of a new economy where more wealth is in danger of falling into fewer hands; where the average CEO now earns more in one day than an average worker earns in an entire year; where Americans are struggling like never before to pay their medical bills, or their kids’ tuition, or high gas prices, all while the profits of the drug and insurance and oil industries have never been higher." —Barack Obama (via Lessig)

Where can Tony Blair go now?

"There is only one place for Tony Blair. America beckons, where so many people have still not seen through him, with a lecture circuit on which he can easily rack up $100,000 a time (and Cherie can top up with not much less, as she has already begun doing), and where he has another friend who owes him one. If, after all the prime minister has done for Rupert Murdoch, the munificent magnate can't stump up a few million dollars for Blair's ghost-written memoirs, there's no gratitude." —Geoffrey Wheatcroft

Sunday, June 24, 2007

New PM a convert to ID cards

Andrew Rawnsley, who usually writes with great authority on the machinations of New Labour, claims that our new prime minister has renounced his scepticism of ID cards. We shall see, when the ID management review he commissioned from James Crosby is published shortly. As Henry Porter writes:

When the ID card scheme is abandoned, the Inquiries Act redrafted to return scrutiny and power to Parliament, when elements of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act are repealed to allow demonstrations within a kilometre of Parliament and a distinction is made between arrestable and non-arrestable offences, when the Tribunals, Court and Enforcement Bill is stopped in its tracks and an Englishman's home again becomes his castle, when the government stops punishing people without a normal court deciding that an offence has been committed, when the national surveillance of motorways and town centres comes before Parliament as a bill and is not just allowed to be implemented by a few power-crazed police officers, then I will admit I am wrong and I will rejoice at a genuine restoration of liberty and I will praise Gordon Brown to the skies.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Jukka Liedes must go (again)

"The [broadcasting] treaty itself increasingly looks like an example of the older way of thinking about WIPO, as an institution that rewards persistent lobbying by right-owners, without evidence of the actual need for the expanded rights, or consideration of the impact of the rights on other stakeholders, in this case, creative communities and consumers. What does this say about the next few years of the SCCR? Increasingly, SCCR members are beginning to ask some obvious questions, and reaching some obvious conclusions." —Jamie Love

Quantum cryptography is expensive and pointless

"Quantum Crypto was invented by physicists who understand physics well but have no understanding of security. It does what it claims to do, but what it claims to do is of no use to anyone. Quantum Crypto does nothing for at all for the things people actually need solved, and for what it does do, it costs vastly too much. It is a lead balloon, a jet powered toast buttering machine, an electronically controlled salad fork." —Perry Metzger

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Broadcasting Treaty is dead!

Jamie Love reported earlier this evening that WIPO is finally set to kill the Broadcasting Treaty. Now IPWatch has confirmed the last rites will be read tomorrow morning at the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights.

After a decade of negotiations, civil society and developing world WIPO members have finally managed to squash this assault on access to knowledge. Break open the Genevoise sparkling wine!

This is an astonishing confirmation that the IP maximalists reached their high watermark with WIPO's 1996 "Internet" treaties. Andrew Adams and I just sent off a paper this afternoon on the ten lost years these treaties caused for creativity. At long last, "intellectual property" is being treated as a means to an end rather than a golden bull to be worshipped in its own right.

Congratulations to Jamie, Manon, Thiru, EDRI, EFF, IP Justice, EIFL and all of their Civil Society Coalition colleagues for this U-turn at the marbled high temple of intellectual property, WIPO's palatial headquarters in Geneva.

UPDATE: Has crazed SCCR chairman Jukka Liedes managed to bring this zombie treaty back from the dead? More from Jamie Love on a "surreal" turn of events:

Jukka Liedes and Michael Keplinger are both pushing for a dipcom in 2008, despite the failure this week to find agreement on much of anything. We come back at 2pm, after having only about 10 minutes or so in open meeting, the 1st open meeting since Tuesday.

UPDATE 2: Jukka has failed with his BRAINNZZZZ. The SCCR has just concluded that they cannot agree on the objectives and scope of a broadcasting treaty, and that the WIPO General Assembly should not approve a Diplomatic Conference until that step has been taken. The treaty now enters a kind of purgatory, doomed to haunt the agenda of the SCCR for the rest of eternity.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Bush's tragic legacy

"The great and tragic irony of the Bush presidency is that its morally convicted foundations have yielded some of the most morally grotesque acts and radical departures from American values in our country's history. The president who insists that he is driven by a clear and compelling moral framework, in which the forces of Good and Evil battle toward a decisive resolution, has done more than almost any American in history to make the world question on which side of that battle this country is fighting. The more convinced President Bush and his followers become of the unchallengeable righteousness of their cause, the fewer limits they recognize. And America's moral standing in the world, and our national character, continue to erode to previously unthinkable depths." —Glen Greenwald

Music managers: drop the Broadcasting Treaty!

"Mr Chairman we have all wasted far too much valuable time going round and round with this unnecessary broadcasting treaty when there is so much more important work to do.

"Please take the courageous, bold and right decision to postpone any further discussion for 5 years and then revisit the issue in the light of future developments." —David Stopps, International Music Managers' Forum (via A2K)

Torygraph headline of the month

Gardasil is not a 'sex jab', you oafs

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


An exciting new treatment for anxious politicians (thanks, Dave!):


Or, as Ben says: I Can Haz Votez?

We've been very busy at the Open Rights Group over the last few months on our e-voting monitoring project. 25 ORG volunteers were accredited as election observers under new voting legislation, and watched the use of e-voting and e-counting systems in May's elections. The results were shocking even to e-voting sceptics such as myself.

We are launching our report on the elections this evening, and hope that those MPs and civil servants coming along will take note of our key conclusion:

The technologies used at the May 2007 election — and the processes by which they were implemented — caused significant problems that raise concerns about the accuracy of the results declared. The nature of the technologies and the problems they caused have served to seriously undermine the faith that candidates, agents and voters have in the integrity of British elections. Much of the responsibility for this lies with the Government, which has shown a naïve and insufficiently robust approach to managing technologies and their suppliers.

ORG concludes that, given the problems observed and the questions remaining unanswered, it cannot express confidence in the results declared in areas observed. Given these findings, ORG remains opposed to the introduction of e-voting and e-counting in the United Kingdom.

This misguided, Old Testament approach to paedophiles

"Mr Gamble draws a clear distinction between those who regularly access child pornography sites, compiling hundreds of pictures of children, and those who may be driven by little more than curiosity. He is right to do so. The idea that everyone who strays into this forbidden territory is invested with a specially pernicious trait that can never be eliminated is an absurd neurosis. It suggests that this is some latterday version of original sin rather than a condition that can be treated and contained. We grew out of these Old Testament doctrines some time ago. Perhaps we should do the same with paedophilia." —Magnus Linklater

Passport checks threaten chaos at airports

New passport scanning technology that doubles the time taken for checks is causing chaos at UK airports. It appears those planning the rollout assumed that aeroplanes would always arrive precisely on schedule. I assume none of them had flown in the last decade.

Britain's prisons reek of a wretchedly backward nation

"When Blair came to power there were 129 shoplifters in prison, now there are 1,400; back then there were fewer than 4,000 life prisoners, now there are 6,431 — more than in Germany, France, Italy and Turkey combined.

"The female prison population has doubled under Blair, dominated by drug offences in which women are usually the dupes of others. Two-thirds of these women have dependent children. As for under-18s, Britain imprisons 23 for every 100,000 of the population, as against six in France, two in Spain and 0.2 in Finland. This cannot reflect innate criminality, only a vindictive judicial system and a government wholly unconcerned with reoffending — now running at two-thirds within two years (compared with 50% in 1992). Penal policy in Britain is an inhumane shambles." —Simon Jenkins

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The end of copyright

"The lawsuits, the spyware, the DMCA: these are the death struggles of an outdated business model. It's the modern-day equivalent of throwing the Christians to the lions in an effort to discourage Christianity. It didn't work for the ancient Romans and it won't work now." —Ernest Adams (via A2K)

The TB-GBs

The Guardian selects the top five Tony Blair v. Gordon Brown moments. What a model of good governance.

The jurisprudence of 24

"Earth to Justice Scalia: Jack Bauer does not exist. " —Andrew Sullivan

Larry Lessig moves on to pastures new

Prof. Larry Lessig, rockstar lawyer and founder of Creative Commons, just announced that he is moving on to a new set of issues away from the copyright work that made him famous.

As for Lilian, Lessig has been a huge influence on my own (academic and campaigning) work. His books Code and The Future of Ideas were an enormous inspiration to me. His legendary speeches and presentations, from obscure academic conferences to EU and WIPO conflabs on the future of copyright regimes, continue to mark him out as the best public speaker I have ever come across. And on a human level he has remained friendly and approachable despite his now-global fame.

I hope he is as successful in reforming US politics away from its addiction to dollars as he has been in shifting the international debate on intellectual property law.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sweden cracks down on Internet salary snoopers

Scandinavian countries are often pointed to as a communitarian ideal, where transparency in the service of equality is valued over privacy in areas such as the publication of salary details. But it seems that in Sweden, the ease-of-access brought by the Internet to neighbours' income has caused a backlash:

The website,, sparked controversy as soon as it was launched because it allowed users to perform anonymous, free credit checks and salary searches on any Swedish citizen. Within just a few clicks, nosy neighbours, business competitors and complete strangers were able to find out about each other's earnings and whether they had outstanding bills to be paid.

The Swedish Data Protection Board now requires the service to charge for searches, and to notify the identity of searchers to those whose information they access. Will this reprocity satisfy Swedes, or will pressure build to block public access to this information altogether?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Bring on the feral beasts

"Britain at present is seriously misgoverned. There is not a ministerial department that would pass muster in an average banana republic. Not a day passes without some new computer scandal, budget overrun, policy shambles or muddled war. These are not political devices. They are real lives that Blair is playing with. Men die every day because of his ill-judged, inadequately criticised wars.

"Were it not for the press, he would have us think all is well in Iraq and a roaring success in Afghanistan. Were it not for the press he would present tax credits, farm payments, child support and out-of-hours doctors as triumphs of public policy. Were it not for the press he would pretend that BAE/Saudi was a model of commercial intercourse and extraordinary rendition was a new budget airline. This is the mendacity with which the press must daily contend." —Simon Jenkins

NHS £20bn IT project boss quits

Richard Granger is to quit as head of the troubled NHS Connecting for Health project (via FIPR). This is likely to add yet-further delays and complications to the floundering scheme to centralise patient records.

The Sunday Times story inaccurately claims that "Some of the most stringent security measures in the IT industry have been devised to protect confidential information." The proposed measures in the NHS system are fairly standard — and some, such as the "sealed envelope", do not even have a credible timetable for deployment. The Leeds University NHS trust found that in just one month, their staff made 70,000 unauthorised accesses to IT systems, while South Warwickshire General Hospitals NHS Trust allows its staff to share logins to save time.

The perfect farewell package

"Once a £75m Airbus has been custom-sprayed in the colours of the Dallas Cowboys and presented to a Saudi prince as a birthday gift, the decadence has attained such hilariously extravagant heights that to dress it up as part of an ethical crusade would tax a moral relativist of considerably higher calibre than our PM." —Marina Hyde

Terror is good for business

"Before 9/11 homeland security barely existed as an industry. By the end of this year, Israeli exports in the sector will reach $1.2bn, an increase of 20%. The key products and services are hi-tech fences, unmanned drones, biometric IDs, video and audio surveillance gear, air passenger profiling and prisoner interrogation systems — precisely the tools and technologies Israel has used to lock in the occupied territories." —Naomi Klein

Friday, June 15, 2007

Attack on FoI dies in the Lords

Good news for parliamentary openness and accountability today. The private members' bill that would have exempted MPs from the Freedom of Information Act has died after failing to find a single sponsor in the House of Lords.

MPs are still complaining about the publicity their expenses attract. Perhaps they should be more careful about what they charge to the public purse?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Patent Lie

"Don’t software companies need patent protection? In fact, companies, especially those that are focused on innovation, don’t: software is already protected by copyright law, and there’s no reason any industry needs both types of protection. The rules of copyright are simpler and protection is available to everyone at very low cost. In contrast, the patent system is cumbersome and expensive. Applying for patents and conducting patent searches can cost tens of thousands of dollars. That is not a huge burden for large companies like Microsoft, but it can be a serious burden for the small start-up firms that produce some of the most important software innovations." —Timothy Lee

New Portugeuse EU presidency must do better on privacy

"I fear that messages such as 'no right to privacy until life and security are guaranteed' are developing into a mantra suggesting that fundamental rights and freedoms are a luxury that security can not afford. I very much challenge that view and stress that there should be no doubt that effective anti-terror measures can be framed within the boundaries of data protection." —European Data Protection Supervisor Peter Hustinx, in a letter to the European Council criticising their lack of progress on a data protection framework decision

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

It's better in the flesh

"The internet is like the wheel — a lot of work has become faster or more tolerable as a result of its invention. People, once with a bicycle and now with Guardian Soulmates, can look further afield for sex, and in the long term this will probably be a boon to genetic diversity. But cyberspace hasn't changed our natures, any more than transport did. Meaningful communities are still small in scale, built on time, effort and contact. Gangs of 200 people saying hello to each other are just so much landscape." —Zoe Williams

Who exposed this colossal bribery? Why, the feral beast

"Remember, any government scandal always turns out worse than first it seems. Remember too that if it involves an assertion by the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, race to the kitchen and count your spoons…

"As the onion skins peel back, al-Yamamah emerges as not a defence contract at all but a vehicle for financial 'skimming' by rich Saudis (and Britons such as Mark Thatcher). While British governments could argue that before the 1998 convention such payments were legal, that has not been so since and they were specifically outlawed in 2001. Whitehall has been complicit in a colossal, secret and illegal act of bribery to win a grossly inflated contract. That is why Goldsmith had to suppress the SFO inquiry and why BAE dare not let Lord Woolf near the stinking trough. And Blair has the gall to call the press cynical." —Simon Jenkins

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Copyright silliness on campus

"No one who takes privacy and civil liberties seriously can believe that the installation of surveillance technologies on university computer networks is a sensible solution." —Fred von Lohmann (via A2K)

Google begins retreat on search term privacy

Google is starting to give ground to the EU's working party of data protection commissioners, agreeing to shorten the length of time it stores search queries to 18 months. I would be greatly surprised if this satisfies the commissioners, as it is still highly disproportionate to the purposes for which Google collects the data, and hence contrary to the Data Privacy Directive.

Physical copyright in a virtual world

Sony is being threatened with legal action by Manchester Cathedral after using the church's interior as a scene in shoot-em-up game Resistance: Fall of Man. But does the cathedral have rights over its interior — especially since its "author" died over six hundred years ago?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Who is behind DoS attacks?

How far are governments behind any of the large-scale Denial of Service attacks we have recently seen? Thanks to Chris Marsden for pointing out this speculation from Robin Bloor in The Register:

Most governments have "cyber soldiers" ready to engage in cyber warfare and it's quite likely that some of the incidents that are reported as hacker activity are government cyber soldiers out on exercise. Only Russia and China have an official branch of the armed forces devoted to cyberwarfare, but whenever any military activity or even military tension occurs cyber warfare breaks out. It happened first in the disintegration of Yugoslavia. It happened between India and Pakistan and more recently in the Middle East - where it is happening at a low level most of the time anyway, but the activity increases when the bullets fly.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Parliamentary sovereignty is not the sine qua non of democracy

Henry Porter has an interesting article on constitutional reform as proposed by the Conservative party's democracy taskforce, chaired by Ken Clarke:

The interesting part of the Clarke report, which is essential reading, is that in seeking to restore life and power to Parliament, there is an implicit argument against a bill of rights because such a bill would place certain areas of law beyond MPs' reach. That challenges the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. Power would pass to unelected judges. I have few problems with this, given the judiciary's record in standing up to Blair, but the loss of parliamentary sovereignty, even in its current limp manifestation, would be a profound change in our constitution and this needs care and consideration.

In the end, judicial enforcement of constitutional rules is all that separates the rule of law from an elective dictatorship. Jeffrey Jowell, UCL's professor of public law, believes that the courts already have the power to strike down unconstitutional legislation.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

No, Labour has not turned Britain into a police state

Martin Kettle thinks that the new Taking Liberties film is, well, taking liberties…

Both the crackers-down and the free Saxons thrive on exaggeration. Sometimes, inevitably, each has a point. Faced with new terrorist threats, porous modern states have to amend their rules or risk unprecedented types of horror. But the rule of law has to be defended from impulsive governments and overmighty police too. Most people recognise these things are complex and delicate. Reid's more emollient tone on terrorism law this week was overdue but welcome. Pretending things are worse than they are does no one any favours, from wherever the pretence comes.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Taking Liberties

Human rights are not a usual cinematic concern. So it's worth going to see the just-released Taking Liberties, a film documentary on Tony Blair's impact on free speech and assembly and the rights to privacy, protest and a fair trial. Will Gordon Brown be more of the same?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Scientists unlock genetic secrets of diseases afflicting millions

A triumph for modern medicine — but unfortunately also yet more reason for employers, insurers, NHS accountants, girlfriends/boyfriends and doubtless others to be interested in your DNA:

By studying the DNA from 17,000 people, the 50 research groups identified 24 new genetic links for bipolar disorder, Crohn's disease, heart disease, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and high blood pressure, tripling the number of genes already associated with them.

DNA-assisted medical treatment is going to present a real challenge to those who value their medical privacy. In ten years, would you (even if given the choice) be willing to totally opt out of having the NHS digitally store your DNA if it could have a dramatically disadvantageous impact on your health?

Good privacy pays for web stores

Some nice data from a Carnegie-Mellon study shows e-tailer customers are willing to pay (small amounts) for clear privacy policies (thanks, Gus!).

These medical moralisers might as well try banning sex

An interesting comment piece in the Guardian from David Edgar, on the growing trend for NHS trusts to ration care based on lifestyle choices:

The most obvious argument against denying people care on the grounds of unhealthy lifestyle is: where do you stop? If you deny care to smokers, drinkers or fat people, why not people who indulge in other self-harming activities that may require medical attention? Aside from climbing and skiing accidents, most serious sportspeople seem to have permanently damaged something that gives them trouble in later life. People don't have to indulge in the activity that spreads chlamydia. What advertisers call today's hectic lifestyle leads to what doctors call stress-related illnesses. GPs and consultants have the right to advise and encourage people not to play contact sports, go potholing, sleep with strangers, work 60-hour weeks or fail to wrap up warmly, but no one would argue they shouldn't treat people who fail to follow that advice, particularly when they present with unrelated illnesses.

Of course, smokers do the Treasury a huge favour by paying monster consumption taxes on their habit and then forfeiting their pension by dying young. Why shouldn't rugby players need health insurance to cover their sports activities, as skiers already do?

If people pay the full external costs (e.g. insurance for increased risk of ill health) of their lifestyle choices, there is no moral reason for retrospectively punishing smokers, drinkers or sports players by denying them healthcare.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

See no evil

"The most enthusiastic customers for [filtering] technology are repressive governments, such as Syria, China, and the United Arab Emirates, regimes that cheerfully jail their citizens for thinking the wrong thoughts and uttering the wrong words. These countries aren't too worried about falsely blocking useful information — the proles don't need it and the elite can always get around it. And as to letting 'bad' information slip through? When censorship is just one weapon in an oppressive arsenal that includes torture, spying, and a ban on demonstrations and political speech, a few slips of the filter can be forgiven." —Cory Doctorow

The best-dressed corpse in the morgue

"Amazingly, hilariously, petulantly, tragically, doltishly, persistently, bizarrely, infuriatingly, arrogantly, obtusely, fantastically, so many Conservatives appear to believe that no compromise, or at least very little, is needed. Yes, in theory, they accept the need for change. It’s just that in practice they oppose every compromise with reality and the voters that anyone suggests. This is, as Mr Cameron put it, delusional." —Danny Finkelstein

Job opportunity of the week

Speaker and Researcher of Geology

Duties and Responsibilities

- Speak to layperson (and occasional science) groups across the country as requested through AiG Outreach Dept. Expected travel a minimum of 25%.
- Literature and field research.
- Write regular articles for web and other AiG publications.
- Produce books, DVDs, curriculum materials, etc.

Education, Experience and Skill Requirements

- Doctorate in geology preferred, or some other related scientific discipline (e.g., paleontology).
- Minimum of 5 years’ field or teaching experience in study discipline.
- Extremely strong knowledge of creation – understanding both the biblical and scientific arguments.
- Articulate and engaging speaker is a must, along with the willingness to be mentored in order to become an even better speaker (i.e., to be “teachable”).
- Ability to express concepts in writing

Items needed for possible employment

- Resume
- Salvation testimony
- Creation belief statement
- Confirmation of your agreement with the AiG Statement of Faith: No apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Less whining, more wining

Tom with pint"While there may be an argument in favour of trying to reduce alcoholic exhibitionism, violence and vomiting in the streets (although, as we have been doing this for at least 800 years, I can't quite see why we're going to stop now), to suggest extending the control order to the privacy of our homes would be risible if the people making the suggestion weren't so preposterously earnest about it. It does not seem to occur to these sanctimonious busybodies that one of the reasons why the rest of us are hitting the bottle so hard is that they are driving us to it with their tedious sermonising and painful finger-wagging admonitions. Most of us now feel that we have so little control over our lives, that about the only true freedom left is what we choose to put into our mouths." —Matthew Fort

I shred; you ignore senior officials; they find a new job

The massive failure of several multi-billion pound government IT projects has been well-documented. The Public Accounts Committee has today published a report pinning blame on the high turnover of senior civil servants in charge of such projects, with half novices to the role; and on a lack of oversight from ministers, who met senior officials in charge of "mission critical and high risk" projects fewer than four times per year in 48% of cases. And as the Daily Telegraph adds: "There is often an air of starry-eyed naivety about Whitehall's contract negotiations with private sector companies, many of which must be laughing all the way to the bank."

The government's response? Rather than improve the transparency of the IT procurement process, they have ordered Treasury civil servants to shred papers relating to the ID card project "gateway review" rather than release them under the Freedom of Information Act.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Should the state penalise the rich-but-dim?

"No one objects to the State intervening to assist the smart but disadvantaged. A massive middle class would go nuts at the sort of measures that government would need to introduce to ensure that Tristan and Jemima were exposed to serious penalties for being, well, thick. This is, to use a technical phrase honed by experts, a bummer of a public policy problem." —Tim Hames

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Brown signals rethink on wiretaps

Gordon Brown has signalled his support for wiretap evidence to be usable in courts, as is common in most other countries around the world. This move is supported by the police as well as campaign groups such as JUSTICE, although furiously opposed by some in the intelligence establishment, notably former Interception of Communications Commissioner Sir Swinton Thomas, who wrote in his final report (p.12):

In conclusion, in my judgment, the introduction of intercept material in the criminal process in this country (other countries have different systems) would put at risk the effectiveness of the agencies on whom we rely in the fight against terrorists and serious criminals, might well result in less convictions and more acquittals and, most important of all, the ability of the intelligence and law enforcement agencies to detect and disrupt terrorism and serious crime and so protect the public of this country would be severely handicapped.

However, the prime minister-elect is also calling for the 28-day limit on detention without trial to be extended because of the difficulties of gathering evidence from overseas and from suspects' computers. As FIPR said in its evidence last year to the Home Affairs Select Committee, wouldn't these problems better be dealt with through increased resourcing and training of investigators?

Estonia cyberwar wasn't

It seems that scepticism about the Russian "cyberwar" allegedly being waged upon Estonia was justified. Wired News' Kevin Poulson reports:

An analysis by Arbor Networks' Jose Nazario has concluded that the distributed denial of service attacks targeting Estonia websites beginning in late April were not the work of the Russian government.

"We see signs of Russian nationalism at work here, but no Russian government connection," Nazario told Heise Security. "None of the sources we have analyzed from around the world show a clear line from Moscow to Tallinn; instead, it's from everywhere around the world to Estonia."

Englishman's home no longer castle part II

Today's Times has interesting coverage of a report by barrister Harry Snook on the many officials with powers to enter homes (thanks, Gus!):

Even those relatively few powers that do potentially affect ordinary lives are scatter-gunned through the law books with such variation and inconsistency that no householder could possibly “know his rights”. Snook calculates that only 26% of the “266 powers” require prior notice to be given. “Of these,” he says, “56% require 24 hours’ notice, 6% 48 hours, 14% 7 days, 1.5% 10 days, 11% 14 days, 1.5% 21 days and 9% 28 days.” Who actually knows this? There are wide inconsistencies, too, in the requirement for officials to show written authority (astonishingly, most don’t have to), in the permitted use of force, in the need for a warrant, and in the penalties faced by citizens who bar the door. These range from £20 (under the Geological Survey Act) to £5,000 (Landmines Act, Broadcasting Act, Animal Health Act and many others). Some even carry a prison sentence.

Friday, June 01, 2007

No test of effectiveness for watermarks

It appears that Apple are using an extremely simple method to embed purchaser information into its iTunes songs: including the user's name in plaintext. Anyone with a text editor can edit this information; converting the file to any other format is also likely to remove the data. Most watermarking schemes are far more sophisticated, hiding this type of information by subtly modifying tiny details of the underlying audio in ways that are difficult to mask.

Interestingly, iTunes' trivial "watermarks" are still protected by article 7 of the EU Copyright Directive. Member states must ban the removal of rights-management information, and the distribution of files whose rights-management information has been removed. In contrast, Digital Rights Management systems must be "effective" to receive legal protection.

iTunes encrypts DRM-restricted songs when they arrive on your computer, rather than as they leave Apple's servers. I wonder if watermarks are applied in the same way, making them even easier to attack. Of course, Apple/iTunes may also be applying further more sophisticated watermarks to purchased songs.

UPDATE: EFF are busy investigating some suspicious data in iTunes files (thanks, Anselm!)