Monthly Archives: July 2010

Tomorrow! ORGCon: Reclaim the net

The Open Rights Group are holding the UK’s first national conference on digital rights tomorrow at City University in London. I’m down to chair two sessions (one on ACTA with Jeremie Zimmerman, Eric Josefsson, Michelle Childs and Andres Guadamuz, the other on the dismantling of the database state, with representatives from No2ID, ARCH, Big Brother Watch and FIPR), which will leave me with lots of time to enjoy their packed programme and hopefully spot a few friendly faces. There are still a few tickets remaining, and entry is free if you sign up to join the Open Rights Group.
ORGCon logo

Links for this week

Here are the links from this week’s Information Program mailout, a weekly update of interesting information policy stories and features I help to compile.

EU Authorities: Implementation of Net Surveillance Directive Is Unlawful
European privacy officials have this week released a report into EU member states’ implementation of the 2006 EU Data Retention Directive, a controversial law which compels EU telecommunications providers to retain information about their customers’ communication activities for access by law enforcement agencies. They found several aspects in which implementation of the Directive was unlawful, including the way ISPs and telcos handed over the data, what they stored and how long they stored it for. They also criticised member states for failing to record how often retained data turned out to be useful in law enforcement activity.

Ugandan Parliament passes interception of communications bill
The Parliament of Uganda have approved a draft law which authorises government security agencies to tap private phone conversations, and compels mobile phone users to register their SIM cards. The bill still requires the assent of the President to pass into law, but if it does, the new phone-tapping powers will be applicable in terrorism, drug-trafficking and human-trafficking investigations, and intercepted conversations will be admissible as evidence in court. The bill, which was first mooted 2007, was passed by Parliament four days after terrorist attacks in Kampala killed 76 people.

Human Rights Groups challenge US ‘Special 301’ IPR sanctions
At this week’s International Aids conference in Vienna, a coalition of human rights groups filed a complaint against the United States’ with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Anand Grover. They argue that the US continues to breach international human rights obligations by using its ‘Special 301’ program to threaten trade sanctions against countries that do not agree to increase intellectual property protections beyond those required by the WTO TRIPS agreement.

Increased internet censorship in Belarus
The Belarus government have adopted new measures to control the internet, issuing a decree that creates a new body, reporting to the President, which will monitor (and censor) web content originating in Belarus. The decree also mandates internet blocking of black-listed foreign websites, and the identification and surveillance of internet cafe users.

First hearing of FRPAA by US Congress committee
The first hearing of the Federal Research Public Access Act, a draft law which would mandate public (and therefore global) access to publicly-funded research, will take place next week in front of the US Congress’ Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Policy, the Census and National Archives.

France stalling on three strikes warnings?
The New York Times reports that although legislation to set up a three strikes-style online copyright enforcement regime in France was passed last September, the agency created by that legislation has yet to send out a single warning letter, let alone cut anyone off the internet: “News reports have shown growing unease about the legislation. Even some lawmakers in Mr. Sarkozy’s party have expressed doubts.”

The Web means the end of forgetting
Jeffrey Rosen investigates how social media is undermining society’s need to forget: “What seemed within our grasp was a power that only Proteus possessed: namely, perfect control over our shifting identities. But the hope that we could carefully control how others view us in different contexts has proved to be another myth.” Registration required for access to this article.

Why Kenya’s attempts to put IPRs in its constitution is a mistake
Pirate Party MEP Amelia Andersdotter urges Kenya not to include intellectual property rights protection in their constitution: “Moving the Kenyan legislation towards the European will shift power from Kenyan entrepreneurs to European big business. Ownership concentration is one of the most harmful tendencies we have seen with intellectual property rights in Europe.”

Time to challenge plus-size IPRs (India)
The director of the Indian Department of Commerce’s Trade Policy Division, Mr. Prashant Goyal, airs his view on TRIPS-plus intellectual property protections and calls on Indian industry – beyond the pharmaceutical industry – to get involved in the debate.

Top Secret America
This rich, data-based Washington post exposé on the United States’ ramping up of spending on national security after 9/11, and on the dubious accountability pathways that have since been created, is a great example of the future of data-driven journalism, and includes some good data visualisations.

The science is fine – it’s scientists that need to change
This Economist feature highlights two reports into contested climate science data, both of which confirm the science, but suggest the need to reform our scientific institutions.

Podcast: Technology for Transparency Network
The Technology for Transparency Network is a participatory research project designed by Information Program grantee Rising Voices which aims to understand the current state of online technology projects that increase transparency, government accountability and civic engagement. As part of the project, the Rising Voices team produced a weekly podcast featuring five-minute interviews with leaders of some of the most interesting technology for transparency projects they came across. You can subscribe to the series via iTunes, or listen to some of the individual interviews listed below.
Subscribe to the series via iTunes
Waheed Al-Barghouthi (Ishki)
Ory Okolloh (Mzalendo)
Felipe Heusser (Vota Inteligente)

Shift Run Stop NTK reunion FTW

NTK ASCII header reimagined as a jpeg Danny O’Brien sez:

Shift Run Stop is one of the best-edited and hilarious geek podcasts out there. If you really are jonesing for an NTK-like fix in your modern 21st century life, you should subscribe, donate, floss, whatever to it. There will be no regrets.

I myself have been gagging/jonesing/clucking for ever since its demise in 2007 (and for a while before that, too). And so it was with warm ears that I listened to the latest edition of Shift.Run.Stop where NTK’s founders, Danny O’Brien and Dave Green, look back on the UK’s greatest ever webzine and share some behind the scenes moments. As promised, no regrets. Here’s a taster:

Dave (on reading back-issues of NTK): What’s strange is that the late nineties seem much further away, because there aren’t things like mp3s, or digital cameras, or broadband to the home, or Region 2 DVDs. It’s an incomprehensibly primitive world.
Danny: But the funny thing is that when we started it, we kind of assumed that we were in the tail end, that all the interesting stuff had already happened and we were these horrible late-comers who were going to bury the corpse. That it had all failed and it was all going to be very miserable from now on and we should have a Blitz-war spirit kind of laugh about it. And actually, most of the stuff that people associate with the internet changing people’s lives happened after it.

Listen to the whole thing here for more NTK history, complicated jokes about Haskell, and Dave circuit bending a sandwich. I’d never come across Shift.Run.Stop before, but I will be subscribing from now on. Their frontwoman, Leila Johnston, sounds like Holly Walsh. Which I count as a good thing.

Links for last week

Here are the links from last week’s Information Program mailout, a weekly update of interesting information policy stories and features I help to compile. I’m posting it late, some of it is chip-wrappings, but most of it is still useful.

Chile mandates net neutrality
The Chilean congress has passed amendments to the country’s telecommunications law that will make it illegal for internet service providers (ISPs) to block or slow down downloads if users are engaged in legal activities. The law will also subject ISPs to tightened transparency requirements. Chile is the first country to approve a net neutrality law.

UK: ISPs challenge copyright enforcement law
UK internet service providers BT and TalkTalk are seeking judicial review of the controversial Digital Economy Act, a law that includes mandatory online copyright enforcement measures, and that was rushed through Parliament in its dying days before the recent UK elections. Even if the challenge is unsuccessful, the complexity of the issues may delay any changes implemented by the law for many years.

Concerns over new communications law in Serbia
The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) has expressed its concern over the recently-adopted Electronic Communications Law in Serbia. The law creates a database of Serbian citizens’ personal electronic communications, granting access to national security and police forces without the need for prior permission.

Chinese thinktank accuses West of using social networking sites to stir political unrest
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a Chinese government-backed thinktank, has called for increased surveillance of popular social networking sites, accusing the US government of using sites such as Facebook to stir political unrest.

Proposed Brazilian copyright reforms protect fair use rights from DRM
Michael Geist reports on the sections of Brazil’s proposed copyright reform bill which permit circumvention of digital rights management (DRM) technologies for fair use and public domain purposes, and shows how it establishes equivalent penalties for hindering or preventing users from exercising their fair use rights.

Audio keylogging: new security threat
The Economist reports on a new surveillance technique that allows audio-based key-logging. Sounds of individual keystrokes can be distinguished via laser microphone, making it possible to eavesdrop on computer users from afar.

Russian government spending: data visualisation
This English language blog post introduces a new website that visualises data released by the Russian government on government spending, and details the work – and the data – still needed to make the project a success.

Highlighting the role of Western tech in Iranian online surveillance
Interview with artist Deena DeNaro about her recent “subvertising” project which aims to highlight the role of Siemens AG and Nokia in shipping surveillance technology to Iran.

Report from Wikimania 2010
Noam Cohen reports for the New York Times on last weekend’s Wikimania event in Gdansk, and outlines the challenges the Wikipedia community now face.

Measuring scientific impact on the web
This paper proposes using social media to enhance traditional citation-based approaches to measuring scientific impact, and evaluates current initiatives and services experimenting with this approach.

First look at TEDGlobal 2010
Ethan Zuckerman liveblogs the TEDGlobal 2010 conference in Oxford, UK. The theme of this year’s event is “And Now The Good News”.
Live-blogging | Report on Ethan’s talk

How to fund the news industry
This project gathers policy and scholarship around new business models in journalism, summarising each proposal with links to the original material.

Audio: The Digitisation of Science
Listen to this lecture by Victoria Stodden which argues that scientific data and code must be published in the open for science to remain credible in the information age.

Tonight! Hacks and Hacking

Tonight’s Online News Association event on data-driven journalism entitled “Hacks and Hacking” has sold out, so if you were lucky enough to get a ticket, I’ll see you there.

My slides for the night can be downloaded here.

Links for last week

Here are the links from last week’s Information Program mailout, a weekly update of interesting information policy stories and features I help to compile. Posting delayed by trip to Gdansk.

New “Apps for Africa” project launched
A competition searching for “the best digital tools to address community challenges in areas ranging from healthcare to education and government transparency to election monitoring.” was launched on 1 July. The contest is open to residents of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania, and the deadline for submitting entries is 31 August. The competition is being run by the US State Department, iHub Nairobi, Appfrica Labs and the Social Development Network.

Finland makes broadband a legal right
From the 1 July, access to broadband has become a legal right for citizens of Finland. A law enshrining the right was passed in October last year. As well as ensuring access to communications, the new right could have implications for future internet laws, for example laws passed to combat illicit filesharing on the ‘net.

US investigators to gain access to European bank records
After a stand-off between the European Parliament and the European Commission earlier this year over negotiations with the US to transfer large amounts of European bank records data across the Atlantic, MEPs have this week approved a new deal that will see US counter-terrorism investigators gain access to the records. In this report, human rights expert Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP warns that “the bulk transfer of information [must] be a transitional solution only. The EU must develop its own capacity to filter and extract data in Europe, obviating both worryingly large block handovers and an absurd reliance on the US to detect terrorists plotting on our territory.”

Wikipedia to embrace the semantic web?
Top officials at Wikipedia have made clear their ambition to make the crowd-sourced encyclopaedia compatible with the semantic web. “Semantic information already exists in Wikipedia, and people are already building on it,” says foundation deputy director Eric Möller. “Unfortunately, we’re not really helping, and they have to use extensive processing to do so.” Independent semantic web projects that build on Wikipedia data include DBPedia and Freebase.

Most “recycled” computers are not recycled
It’s possible that up to 80% of US e-waste is disposed of by labourers in China, Nigeria and elsewhere who work without safety protection for an unregulated and toxic industry. This in-depth report exposes the practices of fake computer recyclers in the developed world, and the harms those practices do to the people and environment of the developing world.

Peter Suber on the row between Nature publishing and the University of California
Peter Suber provides in-depth analysis and discussion points of the ongoing stand-off between Nature Publishing Group and the University of California in the latest edition of Open Access News: “NPG may be throwing away a marketing advantage decades in the making.”

Congress examines US investment in Chinese censorship
Rebecca MacKinnon relates her latest testimony to US lawmakers “the Chinese government has transferred much of the cost of censorship to the private sector. The American investment community has so far been willing to fund Chinese innovation in censorship technologies and systems without complaint or objection. Under such circumstances, Chinese industry leaders have little incentive and less encouragement to resist government demands that often contradict even China’s own laws and constitution.”

War in the fifth domain
This Economist feature risks conflating cyberwar, cybersecurity and cyberespionage, but it is nonetheless a good general overview of the risks and possibilities of a weaponised and contended information sphere.

The ACTA timeline
Michael Geist provides a natty and informative visualisation of negotiations and other events surrounding the controversial intellectual property enforcement treaty, ACTA.

What is data science?
This O’Reilly feature is a great introduction to the importance of data: “The question facing every company today, every startup, every non-profit, every project site that wants to attract a community, is how to use data effectively – not just their own data, but all the data that’s available and relevant.”

Spark Podcasts
The Spark podcast is a weekly radio show about technology and culture. “It’s not just technology for gearheads, it’s about the way technology affects our lives, and the world around us.” Their latest show includes items on predicting human behaviour and using iPhones to score baseball games, as well as a short interview with Nicholas Carr.

And the meek shall inherit the Earth

I’m in Gdansk this weekend for Wikimania, an annual conference for all things wiki, but particularly for those who spend a good chunk of their lives editing Wikipedia. I’ve been to lots of international meetups for different digital communities – iCommons, FOSDEM, 26c3 – but this was my first time at a Wikimania. The thing that struck me early on and has more or less remained for the duration of the three-day conference was the advanced state of meekness. I’ve only met one Bastard Operator from Hell the entire weekend (and even he was fairly sweet). Most people have been shy, kind and intensely dedicated to what they are doing, whether they’re the bootstrap group for one of the smaller-language Wikipedias (like Tajik Wikipedia, which has around 9,000 articles), or the last barrier between the Wikipedia and the libel courts, working on policing Biographies of Living People (or BLPs as they’re referred to among the in-crowd) for English language Wikipedia. On the first day, I found myself scribbling a facsimile of Wikipedia’s planet/jigsaw puzzle logo in the front of my notebook, with the caption “And the meek shall inherit the earth”.

Continuing with the cod anthropology…On the first night there was a fantastic concert put on for conference attendees by the Gdansk Baltic Philharmonic Orchestra. The programme had all the serendipity of a Wikipedia article, in that it had a fairly populist starting point, in the form of some choice selections of the work of Władysław Szpilman (whose wartime experiences formed the basis of Oscar winning film The Pianist) but quickly went off in lesser-known and more interesting directions, featuring a piece by Witold Lutosławski, whose avant-garde work Szpilman championed, and Joanna Bruzdowicz, whose piece on the programme was a direct response to one of Szpilman’s that we’d also heard.

The evening was a major deal. The concert was intended to mark the 10th anniversary of Szpilman’s death and both his widow and son were among the audience. Bruzdowicz had written her piece specifically for the concert, and gave a little speech about it before it premiered. So it was with increasing mortification that I watched the Wikipedian’s apply their cultural nuance. People clapped between movements in the symphony – okay, so that’s just a snobby objection, but it gets worse. Geeks with big important-looking cameras (you know the sort) jumped out of their seats in the middle of performances and skulked around the orchestra taking photos. And perhaps worst of all, more than a dozen people exercised the law of two feet.

Such behaviour makes perfect sense in a geeky conference, but for an orchestral performance, it’s practically sinful. Between fearing for the morale of the musicians forced to play in such an environment, it got me thinking about just how different these two groups of people were. On the one hand, without total central control, and right-first-time professional expertise, the orchestra couldn’t have put on the magnificent show they did (and their performance was magnificent, despite the distractions provided by the audience). But without relinquishing these very disciplines, the Wikipedia community could never have achieved what they have.

In the end, I think the audience won the orchestra over with their tremendous enthusiasm for what they had just heard, which solicited two standing ovations and an encore. The conductor spoke directly to the audience, expressing his, and the orchestra’s, gratitude for Wikipedia, and pretty much articulating my own reflections that tonight the concert hall held not one but two groups of extremely talented individuals, with a lot to offer one another. It was love all round.

There’s much more to write about Wikimania 2010, not least the beauty of Gdansk, which has all the stunning architectural features you’d expect from a Hanseatic league port and then some, and which left me kicking myself that I didn’t bring my own over-spec’ed camera (enjoy this photo from Michael Cavén instead).

Gdansk, by Michael Cavén's

But that will have to wait, because I’m off to catch the World Cup Final…

Links for this week

Here are the links from this week’s Information Program mailout, a weekly update of interesting information policy stories and features I help to compile.

Afghanistan begins internet censorship
Following the announcement in March of its intention to filter websites pertaining to alcohol, gambling and sex, this week saw reports that Afghanistan is now blocking several websites including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Gmail. Under the Taliban, the internet was completely banned in 2001 because it was said to contain “obscene, immoral and anti-Islamic material.”

ACTA negotiations resume
Negotiations around the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) resumed in Lucerne, Switzerland this week, amid vocal criticism from academics and civil society groups. Last week the American University’s Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property released a petition whose signatories included 90 intellectual property professors, warning negotiators that the treaty – which aims to establish a global regime for intellectual property enforcement – threatened the public interest.

Wellcome Trust launches “largest genome sequencing project ever undertaken”
The Wellcome Trust has launched a project to decode the genomes of 10,000 people in the UK. The three-year study aims to make a major contribution to scientists’ understanding of genetics. 4,000 individuals who have already been the subject of intense study will have their genomes fully sequenced, and genetic information will be gathered on clinicians’ recommendations from a further 6,000 people with extreme obesity, neurodevelopmental disease and other conditions.

US government release new privacy and identity initiatives
As part of its transparency and open government program, the United States Office of Management and Budget has launched three major initiatives that could combine to radically change online identity and privacy across the internet. The initiatives cover the government’s use of third party websites, a national strategy for verifying online identity and a policy on web cookies and the handling of personal data by website administrators.

YouTube court case developments good news for safe harbour
The US Federal Court has thrown out two of the central claims in media company Viacom’s ongoing court case against YouTube for copyright infringement. This development will strengthen the legal safe harbour enjoyed by internet intermediaries that allow many user-generated content sites to operate as they do.

Giving civil society a voice in South African telecoms regulation
Steve Song makes the case for using Universal Service funds to pay for civil society participation in South African telecommunications regulation fora, noting that “very often nobody is representing the public interest in these consultations”.

Is it possible to build a Silicon Valley in Russia?
Esther Dyson offers her advice to Dmitry Medvedev following his visit to Silicon Valley: “Think of the project as a garden rather than a construction site.”

One nation, online
This Boston Globe feature charts the global movement for recognising internet access as a civil right.

Are internet populists blind to facts?
Evgeny Morozov attacks Clay Shirky’s latest book, “Cognitive Surplus”: “Yes, a wired future might look good for democracy if some of the social functions currently performed by traditional media are taken up by new Internet projects. But that outcome needs to be demonstrated—perhaps constructively aimed at—rather than assumed.”

The human genome: past and future
The New York Times asks why ten years after the completion of the first draft of the Human Genome Project its application to drug development is still a work in progress, while the Economist reports on why China may lead the way in genetic research in the future, and where that might take the field as a whole.

Two cool map-based data visualisations
Technology Review plots global broadband penetration, while the Open Net Initiative demonstrate a brief history of YouTube censorship around the world.