Monthly Archives: May 2011

Too much information: week ending 27 May

eG8 Summit takes place in Paris
A two-day forum convened by French President Nicolas Sarkozy has seen industry bosses come together in Paris to discuss proposals for future internet regulation, the BBC reports. Their conclusions will be presented to G8 leaders later this week at the G8’s 2011 summit in Deauville. A consortium of civil society actors, including la Quadrature du Net, the Association for Progressive Communications, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and European Digital Rights (EDRi) have signed a joint statement condemning the lack of civil society voices at the summit.
Report | Protest statement

Azerbaijan tables law to criminalise spreading “misinformation” online
Eurasianet reports on amendments being proposed to Azerbaijan’s Criminal Code that would outlaw “distribution of disinformation with the aim of spreading panic among the population, false information about terror”. The amendments, which also target attacks on computer networks and online copyright violations, will be debated by Azerbaijan’s Parliament in the Autumn. Government officials this month charged Wikipedia with spreading disinformation about Azerbaijan. There are fears that the new law could be used to restrict free speech online.

Suit says Cisco helped China pursue Falun Gong
A lawsuit filed in California by the Human Rights Law Foundation on behalf of members of Falun Gong claims Cisco customised its internet routing technology to help China track Falun Gong members, the New York Times reports.

Brazil pushes forward with copyright reforms
Following a period of uncertainty around the future of long-fought-for reforms to Brazil’s copyright law, the Ministry of Culture is holding a seminar in Brasilia to finalize the preparation of the Draft Law.

US: “International Strategy for Cyberspace” launched
The US Whitehouse launched its “International Strategy for Cyberspace” last week, emphasising the expansion of access to secure networks as an economic good, and calling for the development of new international norms to promote an open internet. This week, the Center for Democracy and Technology has released a four-part analysis of the proposals.
Strategy | Analysis

India: Centre for Internet and Society demands list of blocked websites
The Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society has filed a Right To Information request with India’s Department of Information and Technology, asking for a list of websites blocked by the Indian government.

European Commission launches IPR strategy
The European Commission has launched a new Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) strategy this week. LINX reports: “Notable promises include a commitment to legislate to enable pan-European copyright licensing [and] measures to enable libraries to digitise orphan works. A new copyright enforcement directive is also proposed. EDRi have produced a shadow report setting out how “the EU has been making policy ‘blind’, building their strategies on faith not fact and ignoring objective, robust evidence”.
LINX | EDRi shadow report

Rwanda: Kagame gets into Twitter spat with journalist
Balancing Act Africa reports on a heated exchange on the state of press freedom in Rwanda between the country’s president Paul Kagame and British columnist Ian Birrell that took place on Twitter this week.
Report | Exchange

Magna Carta 2.0: a transparency research agenda
The Sunlight Foundation make an impassioned plea for transparency and accountability activists to seize the current moment of fiscal tightening to effect a rebalance of power, by promoting “the financial and efficiency benefits that transparency brings to the operation of government and our society”.

Twitter’s oral culture
Zeynep Tufekci examines Twitter’s oral culture and “the reemergence of oral psychodynamics in the public sphere” in response to an opinion piece in the New York Times by its Executive Editor Bill Keller berating the growth of social media.

Research: Administration of FOI law in Chile
This study of Chile’s two-year old Freedom of Information (FOI) Law highlights serious problems for those wishing to use the internet to make requests. Less than half of organisations examined allowed for online FOI requests.

Video: Ben Fry on visualisation future and data literacy
An eight-minute interview with information designer Ben Fry about the history and evolution of data visualisation.

Open science: a future shaped by shared experience
This long-form Guardian feature is a great introduction to issues and practice in open science.

Tonight! Pick one: utopia/dystopia

Update!: The recording of this event is now available for download.


I’ve already mentioned that I’ll be at the Free Word Centre tonight, chairing the “Which way to techno-utopia?” event. There are still a few tickets going and if you’re in the area, you should come.

That starts at 6:30pm, so I imagine we’ll wind up in time for you to whizz home to catch the first of Adam Curtis’s new three-part documentary on the perils of digital utopianism and the fallacy of the liberating network “All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace“, which airs on BBC2 at 9pm.

Together with Neil Denny, I interviewed Mr Curtis last Friday for Little Atoms. If you didn’t catch the broadcast, the podcast will be up soon. Adam Curtis is someone whose work has shaped mine and whose approach I admire deeply, and it’s been a wrenching experience watching him dismantle the ideology I’ve spent a good part of my life not only believing but promoting. I confronted him about this on Friday, and he was very nice about it, while firmly standing his ground.

Episode two airs next week, and touches on many of the themes I explore in Chapter 3 of Barefoot Into Cyberspace, which regular readers will know is available for free download.

Here’s the trail for tonight’s broadcast:

Little Atoms interview with Adam Curtis

If I sound a bit amused as I introduce the current episode of Little Atoms, an interview with Adam Curtis about his upcoming documentary All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, that’s because I’ve just fluffed my cue live on air. Neil Denny kindly edited that out of the podcast of the interview, which is now available for download.

Too much information: week ending 20 May

Demonstrators take to streets across Turkey to protest internet bans
Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Turkey last weekend to voice their opposition to a new law that will mandate state-controlled internet censorship. The law is scheduled to come into force in August.

UK: Independent review rejects “lobbynomics” and suggests copyright reform could lead to economic boost
A six-month independent review commissioned by the UK government has recommended changes to the copyright system it says could add up to £7.9bn to the UK’s economy, the Financial Times reports. The changes revolve around strengthening exceptions and limitations to copyright law, and linking enforcement to licensing practice. Professor James Boyle, a copyright scholar and advisor to the review, has written a cogent analysis of its findings.
FT report | Boyle analysis

Burma: Ban on CDs, USB drives in internet cafes
Burma’s communications ministry has issued a new regulation forbidding the use of external data storage devices in internet cafes. Democratic Voice of Burma reports: “The ban on CDs, USB sticks and floppy drives comes two months after the government prohibited the use of services like Skype and VZOchat that allow internet users to make free or cheap international phone calls”.

EU to fund African internet infrastructure for research
The European Commission’s EuropeAid Cooperation Office and the international research network operator DANTE have announced a new contract to provide support for sub-Saharan African intra-regional research networking infrastructure to boost its connection to the pan-European research network, GÉANT. Worth just under €15m, 80% of the project funding will come from the Commission, with African partners contributing the remaining 25%.

The Quiet Revolution in Open Learning
This Chronicle of Higher Education feature reveals the history of the Obama administration’s landmark $2bn open education resources policy and charts the likely future of an initiative it says “could have a catalytic effect on a movement that increasingly looks like the future of higher-education reform”.

Fair Mobile – Two Years On
Steve Song compares the difference in price drops for mobile services over the past two years between South Africa and Kenya, and introduces a new survey from Fair Mobile of affordability across the continent.

Brazil’s Copyright Reform: Timeline
Pedro Paranaguá offers a useful timeline to help understand Brazil’s currently stalled copyright reform, eight years in the making. The process, writes Paranaguá, has gone from open and participatory to closed and opaque.

Video: What the internet is hiding from you
Eli Pariser of MoveOn.org shows how advances in technology can tailor the web to each of its individuals users, noting the downsides this might have for education, pluralism and cross-cultural understanding: “What we’re seeing is a passing of the torch from human gatekeepers to algorithmic ones”.

Audio: NPR’s On The Media “The Data Show”
US National Public Radio explore the seductions of data in this special episode of On the Media: “Wallmart logs more than 2.4 petabytes of information about customer transactions every hour, equivalent to 167 times the books in the Library of Congress”.

Which way to techno-utopia? Event at the Free Word Centre next week

picture of signpostBe it nostalgia, futurology, or just the desire to escape our home and seek our fortunes in foreign lands, human beings have a tendency to see happiness anywhere but where they are. But which way is techno-utopia: backwards, forwards, or sidewards? The trash culture of globalised mass-production may make us hamper for an age when the gadgets beginning to invade our home were made (in Britain) to last a lifetime, or it may make us hungry for a virtual world devoid of material detritus. What is certain is that a society’s approach to technology will be driven by the ideologies of the moment.

Next Monday I’m chairing an event where I hope to explore visions of techno-utopia from three distinct angles. On stage will be Gia Milinovich, Angela Saini and Ken Hollings.

Gia is a presenter, writer and blogger, specializing mainly in new media and film. She has worked in a technical capacity on major blockbusters including The X-Files, Indiana Jones and 28 Weeks Later, and she advised on and appeared in the 2009 BBC programme Electric Dreams. I’m hoping that what she’ll bring to the discussion is insight into the modern fetishisation of vintage technology and, more generally, technology’s depiction on the big screen.

Ken is known to this blog, and talks very engagingly about the visions of technology, its power and potential, that pervaded the 20th century during the Cold War. I’m looking forward to seeing him again after our radio show together last year.

Angela is an old acquaintance from my openDemocracy days, and has her first book out this year, Geek Nation (subtitle “How Indian Science is Taking Over the World”). I’m hoping to get some insight from her about the founding myths that inform the Indian tech scene.

If you’d like to come, tickets cost £5 and you can buy them from the Free Word Centre website. The Free Word Centre itself is on Farringdon Road in London, opposite the building that used to house the Guardian newspaper. The event is being put on by Little Atoms. I look forward to seeing you there!

Photo credits: Peter Nijenhuis@Flickr

Why I signed the Wikileaks NDA

Posted today on New Statesman:

I confess I didn’t think too hard before I signed a non-disclosure agreement with WikiLeaks in October 2010. It helped that I wasn’t planning on doing anything to undermine the organisation’s operations, that the penalty mentioned for doing so was a mere £100,000 – and not the £12m detailed in the document released by the New Statesman last week – and that, unlike last week’s document, there was no clause gagging me from speaking about Wikileaks’s own operations. I skim-read the document, noted how badly drafted it was, saw it was to expire a fortnight or so later, and took my chances.

As a result, I got something I have taken to regarding as a quaint souvenir from the heady days of information anarchism, embellished with the signature of the world’s most wanted man. I’m not particularly proud of this attitude, especially as I ended up doing almost no work for the organisation in exchange for my trinket.

What a cynical and misleading headline for a blog post, you might be thinking, and you’d be right. But then, isn’t that sort of eye-catching sensationalism the stock-in-trade of the mainstream press? Yes, it is, and that’s the point.

Read the rest here.

Too much information: week ending 13 May

…with props to David Sasaki for the new title.

Syrian Facebook users face cyber-attacks
The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports on allegations that the Syrian Telecom Ministry has been launching crude attacks on Facebook users, attempting to gain access to and control over their Facebook accounts.

Impeached Ex-President blocks Brazilian freedom of information law
Freedom of Information expert Greg Michener analyses some of the background issues to Brazil’s proposed Freedom of Information legislation, and reports on how current senator and former president, Fernando Collor (impeached for corruption) is blocking the bill’s passage into law.
Report | Background

Russian campaigner faces criminal investigation
Prosecutors in Moscow have launched a criminal investigation into Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption campaigner and blogger dubbed “the Russian Julian Assange”. The Guardian reports that Navalny has brushed off the case, calling it “rubbish” and saying it is the state “taking revenge for his exposés of alleged fraud at Russian state companies”.

Colombia: Following the “Lleras” Law
Global Voices’ Juan Arellano continues his coverage of opposition to the proposed “Lleras Law” in Colombia, which would place the burden of online copyright enforcement on internet service providers. A group calling itself the Colombian chapter of Anonymous has responded with cyberattacks on government websites.

US: Revised ‘net censorship bill goes even further than controversial predecessor
Techdirt report that the newly-proposed PROTECT IP Act, a revision of the controversial Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) that failed to progress through the US legislative process last year, goes even further in restricting ‘net freedoms than its predecessor. The law would allow non-state actors to seek court orders to take down websites accused of copyright infringement, and force search engines to remove such websites from their indexes.

Index on Censorship to join the Global Network Initiative
The Global Network Initiative report: “Index on Censorship, Britain’s leading organization promoting free expression, will become the first non-founding NGO to join the multi-stakeholder organization.”

Have computers taken away our power?
This Guardian feature previews a provocative new documentary by filmmaker Adam Curtis on the key role network theory has played in damaging our ability to imagine a better world. Curtis: “These are the limitations of the self-organising system: it cannot deal with politics and power”.

How to study lobbying with crowdsourced open data
French campaigning NGO Regards Citoyens detail their attempts to extract data from official documents produced by the European Parliament in order to quantify lobbying activity there.

What is open? Control and the Chinese internet
Ethan Zuckerman reports from a recent lecture by political scientist Shirley Hung. Hung explains how the Chinese authorities still believe their internet is open, despite the many layers of control under which it operates: “From [the Chinese] perspective, the US is trying to export their view of the internet, while China is asking for each country to determine its own priorities and future”.

Lessons learned too well: the evolution of internet regulation
Center for Democracy and Technology fellow Malcolm Froomkin combines a useful overview of the history of internet regulation with a strong narrative of the forces that shaped it.

The spectrum of our freedoms
La Quadrature du Net publish this compelling political case for open access to spectrum.

Open Education Resources you may not know about (but should)
A list of ten open education and open courseware resources to celebrate the open courseware movement’s 10-year anniversary.