Monthly Archives: February 2011

Links for week ending 25 February 2011

EFF responds to Hilary Clinton’s second Internet Freedom speech
Last week, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton delivered her second speech on Internet Freedom, on the same day the US Department of Justice was justifying its demands that Twitter hand over data on five of Wikileaks’ staff and supporters in a Virginia court. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have responded to Clinton’s speech, noting that “for every strong statement about preserving liberty, freedom of expression, and privacy on the global Internet, there exists a countervailing example of the United States attempting to undermine those same values”. Plus analysis from Evgeny Morozov, Rebecca MacKinnon and Ethan Zuckerman.
Speech | EFF response | Morozov | MacKinnon | Zuckerman

Did the KGB hack Belarusians social network accounts?
[via Google Translate] Charter 97 report that several of their readers arrested during demonstrations against fraudulent elections in Belarus in December last year have since told them that while they were under arrest, their contacts on the social networks Facebook and Vkontakte saw them online and even received messages containing provocative questions. The reports prompt the newspaper to conclude that the Belarusian secret service, the KGB, hacked into the accounts.

Ugandan Communications Commission issued order to intercept SMS messages in week before election
This week, Uganda held its presidential elections, amid accusations of fraud. The Daily Nation reports that in the week before the elections took place, the Ugandan Communications Commission issued instructions to mobile phone companies to intercept SMSs and flag them if they contained one of 18 keywords, including “Tunisia”, “Egypt” and “dictator”.

Forensic DNA records to be wiped in UK
Under proposed law called “The Freedom Bill”, the United Kingdom would remove the DNA records of up to 1m UK citizens from its forensic DNA database, Genewatch UK report. Only the profiles of people suspected of serious offences of sex or violence will be retained and then only for a maximum of five years. The UK forensic DNA database is currently the largest in the world.

Video sparks debate, anger and scepticism in Cuban blogosphere
Global Voices report on the emergence of a 52-minute video presentation, leaked onto the web, which allegedly shows a Cuban intelligence official demonstrating US cyberwar tactics. Speculation around the Cuban diaspora has focussed on whether the video was released to dissuade Cubans inside the country from staging Egypt-like uprisings.

Yochai Benkler: A free irresponsible press
Yochai Benkler highlights the “deep vulnerability of the checks imposed by the first amendment in the context of a public sphere built entirely of privately-owned infrastructure”, in this important analysis of the wide-ranging legal and ethical implications of events surrounding Wikileaks in 2010. The paper is in draft and will be published in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.

Protecting Human Rights in the Digital Age
This report, commissioned by the Global Network Initiative, “describes the evolving freedom of expression and privacy risks faced by information and communications technology (ICT) companies and how these risks can be more effectively mitigated by the industry.”

Safaricom – A Modest Proposal
This blog post from Steve Song responds to statements from Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore by calling on the Kenyan mobile incumbent to open up their spectrum to non-profit players if they can’t cope with making less than 50% profit on supplying connectivity to rural Kenyans.

Free trove of music scores on web hits sensitive copyright note
This New York Times feature tells the story of the International Music Score Library Project, a crowdsourced scanning project for musical scores. The website has adapted its practices to attempt to conform with copyright law, yet still gets a mixed reception from traditional score publishers.

Interview: Rebecca MacKinnon on the internet in China
The New Yorker interview Chinese internet expert Rebecca MacKinnon, to understand how the Chinese regime is reacting to online organising in the Middle East, and to assess the effect Hilary Clinton’s speech will have on Chinese internet policy. During the interview, MacKinnon exposes the different camps in Washington vying to influence where the US State Department spends the $30m it has earmarked for “Internet Freedom”.

Middle East internet Scorecard
Craig Labovitz, chief scientist at Arbor Networks, presents his analysis of internet traffic in the Middle East over the past few weeks of unrest: “Overall, our data shows pronounced changes in Internet traffic levels in two Middle East countries last week: Bahrain and Libya. While network failures and other exogenous events may play a role in decreased traffic volumes, we observe the changes in Bahrain and Libya are temporally coincident with the onset of recent protests.”

Visualisation: Egypt influence network
This breath-taking visualisation by Kova Boguta, based on the “follows” of Twitter users covering recent events in Egypt, maps networks of influence across the Arab- and English-speaking web: “Experts say Egypt is the crystal ball in which the Arab world sees its future. Now that Mubarak has stepped down, I can share the work I’ve done making that metaphor tangible, and visualizing the pro-democracy movement in Egypt and across the Middle East.”

Video: Margaret Atwood on the author as “primary source”
In her keynote at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference, Margaret Atwood gives an engaging and incisive author’s perspective on challenges faced by the publishing industry by changing technology.

Links for week ending 18 February 2011

US Government shuts down 84,000 websites by mistake
Torrent Freak report that in a second round of domain name seizures aimed at targeting counterfeit goods and child sex abuse images, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement authority wrongly pulled over 84,000 websites from the web. Many of the sites belonged to small businesses and individuals, whose visitors were diverted to a message which implied they trafficked in images of child sex abuse.

EU Civil Liberties Committee rejects mandatory EU-wide internet blocking
European Digital Rights (EDRi) Advocacy Coordinator Joe McNamee reports that this week the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee rejected flawed proposals to mandate blocking of illegal images by internet service providers. The so-called “orientation vote” sets up the negotiations at the Council of Ministers and is a – qualified – success for digital rights campaigners.

Swedish government announces fund for Internet Freedom
[via Google Translate] The Swedish government has announced its intent to use 150 million kronor ($23M) of its annual foreign aid to support for online activism and democratic development.

“Freedom Box” could protect privacy and liberate internet users
Renowned free software lawyer Eben Moglen has proposed a solution to growing concerns around internet freedom at a conference in New York. By encouraging internet users to store personal data on their own, encrypted “Freedom Box”, a low-power plug server running lightweight, free software, the consolidation of the net around platforms like Facebook could be reversed, Moglen argued, and the original, decentralised architecture of the internet restored.
NYTimes report | More details at ZDNet

How cyber-pragmatism brought down Mubarak
This feature in the Nation gives a compelling account of the core of digitally-networked activists that seeded the recent revolution in Egypt: “Oppressive social conditions do stoke a common hunger for change; however, a movement isn’t born until a core group of extraordinarily brave activists take that extra step, translating their outrage into public action”.

Should business fear Tim Wu’s FTC appointment?
This blog post for Forbes explores why the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s recent appointment of net neutrality champion Tim Wu to their office of policy planning has got businesses in the US nervous, and speculates whether the news heralds upcoming anti-trust investigations against Google.

Interview: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Inside Higher Ed interviews digital scholar Siva Vaidhyanathan on the launch of his latest book “The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry)”.

Facebook officials keep quiet on its role in revolts
This New York Times feature examines the “countervailing pressures” keeping Facebook quiet on its role in the uprisings in Egypt: “While it has become one of the primary tools for activists to mobilize protests and share information, Facebook does not want to be seen as picking sides for fear that some countries — like Syria, where it just gained a foothold — would impose restrictions on its use or more closely monitor users”.

How the internet gets inside us
Adam Gopnik takes an aerial – and faintly dry – view for the New Yorker of the books written recently about the internet’s likely effects on humanity: “A series of books explaining why books no longer matter is a paradox that Chesterton would have found implausible, yet there they are, and they come in the typical flavors: the eulogistic, the alarmed, the sober, and the gleeful”.

Resources: Wireless best practices
Aspiration Tech’s facilitation wiki offers superbly useful and practical guidelines for planning connectivity at events and conferences.

Audio: Crunching numbers for human rights
Listen to Patrick Ball, vice president of the Benetech Human Rights Data Analysis Group, deliver a lunchtime talk at OSF’s offices in New York, where he uses examples from Guatemala, El Salvador, Kosovo, Colombia, Timor-Leste, and Sierra Leone to highlight the common pitfalls faced by human rights practitioners as they interpret data gathered from the field.

Interview with Johann Hari for Little Atoms

Last Friday, while I was on my way to New York for a two day meeting at the Open Society Foundations’ US headquarters, my second spot on Little Atoms went out on Resonance. Its an interview with Independent columnist Johann Hari, and we end up talking a lot about the recent UK Uncut protests against our nation’s tax delinquents. You can listen to the show here.

Picture of UK Uncut Protester outside Vodafone

I’ve been delighted to watch this protest movement emerge, and it’s great talking to someone who has been in close proximity to it. I was also thrilled to see Open Rights Group and Open Knowledge Foundation stickers on the back of the laptop of one protester in the photo accompanying this excellent feature on the movement entitled “No drugs. No sex. And no leaders.” by Laurie Penny in last week’s New Statesman.

Image from New Satesman feature on UK Uncut

(Ok, so you can make them out a little better in the print version, which is a double-page spread.)

Johann was a joy to interview, partly because I’ve known him since our first day as undergraduates at Kings College, Cambridge and it was good to catch up on gossip off-mic, but mostly because he talks sense, in complete paragraphs.

Image credits: copwatcher@flickr; Philip Sinden for New Statesman

Links for week ending 11 February 2011

Intermediary liability trial begins in Thailand
The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) report that the trial of the director of online newspaper Prachatai began in Thailand last week. Ms. Chiranuch Premchaiporn (known as Jiew) faces a prison sentence of up to twenty years under Thailand’s Computer Crime Act for publishing ten potentially unlawful comments from anonymous readers, comments which Prachatai subsequently removed. Thai Netizen Network have dubbed the trial “a case study in internet and intermediary liability in Thailand”.
CDT report | Thai Netizen Network statement

Syria lifts Facebook ban
Forward Syria reports that Syrian authorities lifted a five-year ban on Facebook this week. Syrian internet users are reporting that some ISPs have also lifted a five-year block on YouTube. Forward Syria state that “no official announcement is expected to be made on the decision”.

Mass-defacement of websites mentioning Armenian genocide
Security experts are claiming that that cyber-attackers calling themselves “1923 Turkish group” have defaced more than 6,000 websites which mention the Armenian genocide, leaving messages in Turkish and English which say “Do not believe Armenia’s lies, the biggest genocide was committed by you, America”.

Brazilian communications agency moves towards surveillance superpowers
The Brazilian national communications agency Anatel has announced plans to invest in surveillance infrastructure to harvest communications traffic data from private mobile phone carrier networks. Freedom to Tinker reports: “Anatel has invested about $500,000 in building three central switches that connect directly with the private carrier’s networks. The switches are not for eavesdropping, but will provide the agency with direct access to information such as numbers dialed, date, time, amount paid and duration of all phone calls.”

Knight and Mozilla Foundations launch partnership to advance media innovation
The Knight Foundation and the Mozilla Foundation have announced a joint initiative to seed technological innovation in newsrooms. The $2.5million program will recruit 15 Knight-Mozilla fellows to embed in newsrooms including the Boston Globe, the BBC, the Guardian and Zeit Online.

The rise of the access to knowledge movement: an interview with Vera Franz
This interview with Information Program Manager Vera Franz charts the rise of the access to knowledge movement, highlighting the movement’s achievements at the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization, and detailing the challenges that remain for intellectual property reform.

Internet Freedom? there’s no app for that
This blog post from the Center for Democracy and Technology critiques both the US State Department’s Internet Freedom agenda and the mainstream media’s response to it, arguing for a more sophisticated understanding of the limitations of technical “fixes” and a focus on policy advocacy at home and abroad.

How should internet and phone companies respond in Egypt?
This blog post from the Institute for Human Rights and Business outlines steps Vodafone should have considered taking before submitting to pressure from the Egyptian authorities to shut down their mobile network at the beginning of the protests in Egypt.

India and Europe trading away access to medicines
This OSF blog post outlines the worrying implications of the free trade agreement (FTA) currently being negotiated between the EU and India: “If, as reports indicate, EU negotiators succeed in pressuring India to beef up intellectual property protection at the expense of public access rights for life-saving drugs, the FTA would seriously undercut India’s ability to produce generic, low-cost drugs, with detrimental effects on access to medicines for the developing world.”

Report: Mobile services in poor countries
This Economist report provides a useful overview of “more-than-voice” services being taken up by mobile users in the developing world, including applications to fight counterfeit medicines, track agricultural goods or provide financial services to the poor.

Report: Conficker, collaboration and the accelerated pace of cyber threats
This report into the security community’s ad-hoc collaborative effort to neutralise the Conficker computer worm concludes that “the number, scope, and sophistication of cyber threats are increasing more rapidly than the number of people vetted within the cybersecurity community capable of fighting them”.

Five books: The philosophy of technology
Evgeny Morozov picks the defining literature of the philosophy of technology for The Browser’s Five Books series, and argues that “philosophers of technology completely missed the train on the internet”.

Links for week ending 4 February 2011

US: Internet ‘kill switch’ legislation back in play
Proposals that grant the US president power to “switch off” the internet will be re-introduced into the Senate soon, according to this Wired report. Senator Susan Collins, who is floating the legislation, argues it would not give the US president the same power Hosni Mubarak exercised in Egypt last week in order to quell dissent.

ICE domain name seizures under fire
The US Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division was under fire this week as Senator Ron Wyden questioned its programme to seize the domain names of websites linked to copyright infringement. On Tuesday reports began to emerge that ICE had seized the domain name of Spanish website, effectively booting it from the web despite the fact that the site has twice been declared legal by Spanish courts.

Brazil: Ministry of Culture abandons Creative Commons
This Global Voices post by Diego Casaes analyses the decision of the new Brazilian Minister of Culture, Ana de Hollanda, to remove Creative Commons licences from the Ministry’s website.

Facebook enables HTTPS so you can share without being hijacked
Facebook will soon give its users the option to use the site over secure https connection, the company announced the day after its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, appeared to have had his own account hijacked. Wired report that: “It’s not clear if the option would have prevented the hijacking of Zuckerberg’s account, but it almost certainly would have prevented Tunisia’s snooping on users if they had the protection option turned on”.

OpenLeaks goes live
OpenLeaks, the whistleblowing website set up by former WikiLeaks spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg, went public last week. Although the site is not yet operational, interested parties can now read more about the organisation’s plans and ambitions, and the practices that will set them apart from WikiLeaks. In December, Domscheit-Berg spoke to the BBC about his hopes for the site.
OpenLeaks | BBC interview

New computer program predicts likelihood of violent civil unrest
Talking Points Memo report on a project sponsored by the US Air Force Research Laboratory to devise a statistical model that predicts where civil unrest is most likely to occur around the world.

Google finds it hard to reinvent philanthropy
This New York Times article picks apart the track record of (“DotOrg”), the search giant’s philanthropic arm: “Although Google intended to tackle major problems like climate change, global poverty and the spread of pandemic diseases, it declared that DotOrg would not be “conventional” — a four-letter word in Google-speak… Nearly five years later, however, the hyperbole looks more like hubris”.

Lost & found: How Refugees United aims to be a Google for refugee search
This Wired feature tells the stories of users of Refugees United, a website for helping displaced people get back in touch with their families and friends.

On science publishing
Creative Commons’ John Wilbanks addresses the future of scientific publishing in Seed Magazine.

Report: The slide from “self-regulation” to corporate censorship
European Digital Rights (EDRi) has published a study which focuses on measures being undertaken in Europe “to outsource policing activities to private companies in the internet environment and [their] significance for fundamental rights, transparency and openness on the internet”.

Who needs textbooks?
This Newsweek feature examines open educational resources through the lens of Washington State’s Open Course Library project.