Monthly Archives: September 2010

Links for week ending 17 September 2010

Iranian activists advised to stop using Haystack
Following news of a security flaw, the US-based Censorship Research Center (CRC) has announced that it has halted ongoing testing of its anti-censorship software Haystack in Iran. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has recommended that people stop using all versions of the Haystack software immediately. The news follows on from concerns that CRC had not previously made the Haystack code available to the wider security and censorship-circumvention community for testing and scrutiny.

European Parliament adopts declaration against ACTA
377 members of the European Parliament have signed up to a written declaration condemning many aspects of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The EU is a party to the draft treaty, with its negotiating effort being led by the European Commission. Although the declaration has no binding force, it indicates that the Commission may have to push for more consumer- and citizen-friendly provisions at the treaty’s next, and potentially final, negotiating round this month, in order to be sure the deal it strikes will be approved by Parliament.

Russian authorities use IP-enforcement powers to raid NGO offices
Following a story broken by the New York Times, that police in Russia were seizing the computers of civil society groups on the pretext of searching for pirated Microsoft software, Microsoft have issued blanket licences to advocacy groups and media organisations, both in Russia and elsewhere. The move means Microsoft’s in-country lawyers will no longer provide legal support for politically motivated piracy raids.

FCC likely to approve new unlicensed spectrum
The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to expand the proportion of the airwaves available to device and network innovators in a meeting later this month, The regulator is expected to give final approval to a conversion to unlicensed spectrum of white space freed up by the switch from analogue to digital television.

Safaricom slashes mobile text-message cost
Bloomberg report that a price war between competitors in the Kenyan mobile market has seen Safaricom reduce its SMS prices by up to 94%.

DoS attacks sponsored by movie industry
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that an Indian company is offering Denial of Service attacks as a service to rightsholding clients trying to remove pirated movies from the web.

Consumers International survey
A new survey designed to reveal the obstacles consumers face in gaining access to educational and cultural resources has been released by Consumers International. The survey was conducted in 13 languages, covering 15,000 consumers across 24 countries. It found that “the biggest barriers that consumers face in accessing copyright works are those created by copyright law. Even so, consumers around the world will choose original copyright works over pirated copies, provided that they are available at an affordable price.”

Does open data only empower the empowered?
This excellent blog post by Michael Gurstein uses the example of the digitized land registry in Bangalore to warn that open data initiatives may empower the already-empowered to use information in self-interested ways: “This is not to suggest that processes of computerization inevitably lead to such outcomes but rather to say that in the absence of efforts to equalize the playing field… the end result may be increased social divides rather than reduced ones.”

10 sources of free textbooks online
The Curriki website celebrates a new school term by pointing readers to ten great sources for open educational resources.

Indian civil society and biometric ID
This AlterNet feature tracks the developing disquiet among civil society groups in India as their government prepares to roll out a new biometric identification project whose aim is to give every Indian a lifelong Unique ID number.

Rise of religious search engines?
NPR report on a new trend: the rise of religious search engines. One creator of a search engine aimed at Christians says “a search on his site would not turn up pornography. If you search ‘gay marriage’, you would get results that argue against gay marriage”. Other search engines aimed at the Jewish and Muslim communities are also investigated in this report.

The future of peer review
Cameron Neylon argues that online reaction to a recent new proof for a major outstanding mathematical theorem hints at the future of peer review: “The online maths community has lit up with excitement…And in the process we are seeing online collaborative post publication peer review take off.”

Links for week ending 10 September

Brazil’s proposal on monetizing P2P
The Brazilian government closed its far-reaching public consultation on copyright law reform last week. Among the proposals for reform was one put forward by a group of academics, musicians and cultural producers that would legitimise non-commercial peer-to-peer filesharing by charging broadband users a small fee. The fee would be distributed to artists via collecting societies.

India to ask Google, Skype, VPN providers to give data access
The Times of India report that the Indian government will ask Google and Skype, as well as operators of virtual private networks (VPNs), to set-up in-country servers that allow the Indian authorities access to conduct lawful communications monitoring. The news follows last month’s announcement that the government was considering banning the use of BlackBerrys unless authorities could be granted access for lawful communications monitoring. The government have given BlackBerry manufacturer Research In Motion a two-month grace period to provide a permanent solution, in order to avert a ban on its messaging services.

Latest ACTA text leaked
A leaked version of the latest draft of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement reveals that negotiators may be ready to abandon clauses that would leave internet service providers liable for copyright infringement conducted on their networks. But the text also reveals that the United States is pushing to maintain measures that would mandate legal protection against the circumvention of digital rights management technology, and even prohibit the sale of tools to allow such circumvention.

UN reveals global disparity in broadband access
A new UN study has revealed the global disparity in access to communications. While it costs between 0.3 and 0.6% of average per capita monthly income to get online in countries such as the US, Israel, China and Singapore, in countries such as Niger, Guinea, Malawi, Ethiopia and the Central African Republic it can cost between 1000 and 4000%.

US withdrawal from Iraq raises questions about future of biometric database
As the US combat mission in Iraq came to an end last week, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) repeated concerns they had raised in 2007 about the creation of “secret profiles on hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, tied to unique biometric identifiers, including digital fingerprints, photographic images, iris scans, and even DNA”. Together with Human Rights Watch and Privacy International, EPIC have warned that such practices contravene international treaties, and that misuse of secret files containing personal data has taken place in other conflicts.

Public consultation on access to information and open government data launched
In collaboration with the Information Program, Access Info Europe and the Open Knowledge Foundation are holding a public consultation on open government data and the right of access to information. The consultation is based on a new report which identifies the practical, technical and legal challenges facing these movements.

The future of the internet: A virtual counter-revolution
This Economist feature shows how a combination of government assertiveness and corporate exploitation may balkanise the net.

The Importance of Being Local
What is the real cost of SMS in Africa? Steve Song digs through the corporate literature.

Is Mexico a Model for the Rest of the World?
David Sasaki contrasts the accepted picture of Mexico’s exemplary Freedom of Information provisions with the reality for activists on the ground.

The Impact of Open Notebook Science
Interesting interview with organic chemist and open notebook scientist Jean-Claude Bradley: “In the interests of openness, Bradley makes the details of every experiment done in his lab freely available on the web. He doesn’t limit this to just a description, but he includes all the data generated from these experiments too, even the failed experiments.”

War on Science
A short interview with Simon Singh, who for more than two years fought a libel case brought by the British Chiropractic Association that threatened to harm the ability of scientists to speak freely.

Video: Suzanne Gildert on Quantum Computing
This talk “separates hope from hype” around quantum computing. Dr Suzanne Gildert explains why quantum computers are useful, dispels some of the myths about what they can and cannot do, and plots a realistic timescale for the development of commercially useful systems.

Echoes of Phorm in mobile phone hacking story

Back when the Open Rights Group was campaigning against the targeted advertising company Phorm, one of the discoveries we made was that UK citizens had very few avenues of redress when private companies intercept their communications illegally. The Information Commissioner only regulates data processing (and of course, FOI), and not communications interception. And the Interception of Communications Commissioner is only set up to regulate the interception activities of public authorities, (law enforcement, etc). If you suspect your communications are being intercepted by someone on the make, you either have to put up with it, or persuade the CPS to prosecute.

So I’ve been following the current storm around the illegal “hacking” of MPs’ and others’ mobile phones with some interest. Although it’s not clear to me what this hacking actually consisted of, and whether it could be classed as an interception, it certainly isn’t a matter for the Information Commissioner. Which might explain why invocations of the ICO have gradually disappeared from the rhetoric surrounding possible avenues of redress for those affected.

Of course, if you’re an MP and your communications get intercepted by a private company, you have it in your power to change the law so that private individuals such as yourself can be better protected in the future. Then again, it’s probably much more expedient to the use the resources bestowed on you by the tax-paying public to cover your own arse and leave it at that.

Links for week ending 3 September

Arrested Indian e-voting researcher released on bail
Hari Prasad, an Indian security researcher who was arrested earlier this month for allegedly stealing an electronic voting machine, has been released on bail. Prasad and his research team exposed security flaws with the machine that could allow an attacker to change election results and compromise ballot secrecy. But when questioned by the Indian authorities Prasad refused to disclose the anonymous source who provided him with the machine on which he conducted his tests. The EFF report that “the court reportedly also asked the Election Commission of India to confirm or disprove Prasad’s claim that the country’s electronic voting machines can be compromised.”

ACTA Round Ten Concludes: Deal May Be One Month Away
The tenth round of international negotiations on the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement concluded earlier this month in Washington DC. The current draft text of the treaty will not be released. The next, and potentially last round of negotiations before a treaty text is agreed, will take place in Japan in September.

Iranian activist sues telecoms firm over ‘spying system’
Isa Saharkhiz, a prominent Iranian journalist and political figure, is suing Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) over allegations that the telecommunications company provided Iranian authorities with a monitoring system it used to spy on the opposition Green movement. The Guardian report that: “Saharkhiz, who is still in detention, discovered during his interrogation in Tehran’s Evin prison that his whereabouts were revealed when security officials listened in to his mobile phone conversations using technology NSN allegedly sold to Iran.” Saharkhiz was arrested after last Summer’s disputed presidential election.

Pressure groups call on FCC to block Google/Verizon deal
Pressure groups are calling on the US Federal Communications Commission to block a deal between Google and Verizon that could compromise net neutrality on wireless networks. NPR report that: “If [the deal] is allowed, the coalition of consumer, civil rights and advocacy groups argues, ‘it would divide the information superhighway, creating new private fast lanes for the big players while leaving the little guy stranded on a winding dirt road.'”

France: authorities want users to install spyware on their computers
According to a leaked consultation document, French internet users could soon be required to install spyware on their computers which tracks their searching habits and analyses the applications they have installed, in order to prevent illicit infringement of copyrighted files over peer-to-peer networks. The confidential document was issued by Hadopi, the regulatory authority established by the French “3 strikes” copyright enforcement law last year.

The Data-Driven Life
Gary Wolf, co-creator of website “The Quantified Self”, examines how harvesting and analysing ambient data about our daily activities could improve – and complicate – our lives: “almost imperceptibly, numbers are infiltrating the last redoubts of the personal. Sleep, exercise, sex, food, mood, location, alertness, productivity, even spiritual well-being are being tracked and measured, shared and displayed.”

Rare sharing of data led to results on Alzheimer’s
A collaborative effort to find the biological markers that show the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in the human brain is bearing fruit, with more than 100 studies under way to test drugs that might slow or stop the disease. “The key to the Alzheimer’s project was an agreement…to share all the data, making every single finding public immediately, available to anyone with a computer anywhere in the world”

Is the web dying?
The UK Observer’s John Naughton unpicks Chris Anderson and Michael Wolf’s claims that the digital world is moving from the open platform of the web towards closed platforms like the iPad and the iPhone.

New Project to assess potential for opening governments’ data
The World Wide Web Foundation has announced that it will be undertaking a series of feasibility studies to assess the readiness of Chile, Ghana and Turkey for adopting an open government data program similar to the programs established by the US and UK and projects. The work is co-sponsored by the Open Society Institute.

Bangkok Post : When police act selectively
Sympathy and offers of assistance are pouring in for Surat Maneenoprattanasuda, a street vendor convicted of selling pirated movies in Bangkok under a new anti-piracy law, whose story has made front page headlines in Thailand. This Bangkok Post editorial argues that until police corruption and double standards are addressed, such arrests will not serve as a warning to other pirate CD vendors in Thailand.

No Copyright Law: The Real Reason for Germany’s Industrial Expansion?
New research by German economic historian Eckhard Höffner suggests that Germany experienced rapid industrial expansion in the 19th century due to an absence of copyright law.