Monthly Archives: January 2012

Too much information: links for week ending 27 January 2012

European Member States sign ACTA amid widespread protest
Wired.co.uk reports that representatives from the European Union and from twenty of its members states signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) this week, a controversial treaty that has the potential to mandate intellectual property enforcement measures that go beyond international norms. News that member states were about to sign led to protests across Europe online and off: street protests in Poland attracted thousands of participants, and the European Parliament’s website was taken down in a suspected DDoS attack. Campaigners against the treaty, including Panoptykon, La Quadrature du Net and the Open Rights Group, are advising EU citizens to contact their representatives in the European Parliament, who still have a chance to stop the treaty in a vote scheduled to take place later this year.
Wired | Polish protests | Panoptykon | La Quadrature du Net | Open Rights Group

“The internet spoke and, finally, Congress listened!”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) celebrates the halt to progress of SOPA and PIPA, two controversial proposed intellectual property enforcement laws with traits very similar to ACTA (see above), through the US legislative system. An internet blackout, led by Wikipedia last week, is thought to have directly influenced the decision of US legislators to rethink the two proposed laws.

Iran arrests wave of bloggers, writers and programmers
Deutsche Welle reports on a wave of arrests in Iran, thought to be timed ahead of Parliamentary elections to be held in early March.

Apple enters US textbook market
CNET TV reports on Apple’s announcement last week that it would be entering the US K-12 market for textbooks, offering them through the iPad, and releasing a free app – iBook Author – that allows anyone to create a textbook for the platform. Philipp Schmidt, co-founder of the Peer 2 Peer University, analyses the impact the endeavour will have on the Open Educational Resources movement.
News | Analysis

EU proposes revisions to Data Protection law
EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding announced proposed revisions to Europe’s Data Protection laws this week, including tough penalties for firms which break the law, a data breach notification requirement, and the right of citizens to demand that data held on them be deleted if there are no legitimate grounds to keep it (“the right to be forgotten”). The European consumer organisation BEUC welcomed the new proposals.
News | BEUC statement

US Supreme Court issues important privacy judgement
In a case originally brought to dispute the warrantless use of a GPS tracking device on the car of a man suspected by police of involvement in drug-dealing, justices at the US Supreme Court have issued an overlapping set of opinions which, the New York Times reports, indicate that they “are prepared to apply broad privacy principles to bring the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches into the digital age”. The case is of particular interest given the increasing use of sophisticated, privacy-invasive technologies by law enforcement.

ITU Member States urged to guarantee free flow of information
As a meeting of the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) begins this week in Geneva, Reporters Without Borders have issued a statement urging the ITU “to firmly condemn countries that do not respect the fundamental principles of the free flow of information”.

Google user data to be merged across all sites under contentious plan
The Guardian reports on an announcement this week by Google that it intends change its privacy policies to allow the company to merge data it collects about a user across several different services, creating a single profile that will be used to refine search results and target advertising: “Users will have no way to opt out of being tracked across the board.” The Atlantic carries a good article about what the changes will mean for Google’s users.
Guardian | Atlantic

DDoS attacks: protest? direct action? terrorism?
Gabriella Coleman kicks off an engaging debate on the Concurring Opinions blog that explores how to interpret and respond to politically-motivated DDoS attacks.

Should the World Bank be partnering with Google?
The New York Times publishes an editorial by the World Bank’s Caroline Anstey that argues that their recent partnership with Google – which gives World Bank partners free access to Google’s Map Maker platform – is a step towards plugging crucial information gaps about public infrastructure in the developing world. Ushahidi’s Patrick Meier is less optimistic about the partnership, fearing most of its benefits will accrue to Google.
Anstey | Meier

Book review: Standards
Evgeny Morozov precises Lawrence Busch’s new book “Standards: Recipes for Reality”, in which the author sees standards as “complex technical and moral devices that can be abused as easily as they can be put to noble causes”.

Video: Beth Kolko on Hackademia
In this video from the Berkman Luncheon series, Beth Kolko examines the conflict between expertise and innovation, and what it has to teach those in academia.

The ethics of drones

I had a short piece published on Comment is Free over the weekend about the various ethical questions raised by the use of drones in military, law enforcement and commercial settings. Here’s a taste:

Philosophers and lawyers, encouraged and occasionally funded by the military-industrial complex, are swarming around the issue. The questions raised are manifold. Do drones lower the threshold of war, encouraging those who deploy them to be more bellicose? Can they or their operators sufficiently discriminate combatants from civilians in order to comply with international law? Are they proportionate, or so horrifically cruel as to qualify, along with anti-personnel landmines and cluster bombs, for prohibition? Does their cybernetic nature make them a biological weapon? What effect does their deployment have on the “hearts and minds” of civilians, or the morale of soldiers? Should we worry that Iran appears to have assumed control of a US drone, having kidnapped it out of the sky? And who is to blame when drones go wrong? The question of responsibility becomes even more central as scholars consider the implications of a future featuring autonomous drones.

You can read the rest here.

Too much information – links for week ending 20 January 2012

Wikipedia leads web blackout to protest proposed US law
The Wikipedia community blocked access to the English version of Wikipedia on Wednesday this week, as part of a wider online protest against two draft laws being discussed in the United States to enforce intellectual property online. Google, Wired, Reddit, WordPress and many, many others joined the protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), which both have the potential to usher in a new age of online censorship. Also this week, President Obama indicated he would veto SOPA, a move which drew sharp criticism from Rupert Murdoch.
Statement of Wikimedia Foundation | Gallery of protest pages | Obama v Murdoch | MIT Oped: The “Trojan Horse” of a controlling state?

Publishers speak out against Research Works Act
The Scientist magazine details emerging dissent from academic publishers including MIT Press, Rockefeller University Press, the University of California Press and the Pennsylvania State University Press, aimed at draft legislation – the Research Works Act – that could jeopardise public access to publicly-funded research. This week Nature Publishing Group (NPG) also spoke out against the bill, which is being supported by the American Association of Publishers.
The Scientist | NPG

US: Supreme Court rules against public domain
The US Supreme Court has ruled in favour of a 1994 law extending the term of copyright protection on foreign works, which took works that had entered the public domain and put them back under copyright protection. The case had been brought on free speech grounds by a coalition that included orchestra conductors, educators and performers. The ruling marks an unhappy ending to a ten-year campaign.

Europe: Leaked documents show Data Retention Directive in sorry state
European Digital Rights (EDRI) reports on a leaked document which “shows that the [European] Commission can neither prove necessity nor proportionality of the Data Retention Directive – but still wants to keep the it”. The legislation – brought forward in response to the London bombings of 2005, has been found unconstitutional, on privacy grounds, in several EU member states.

Our weirdness is free: the story of Anonymous
Triple Canopy publish an essay by Gabriella Coleman on the history of Anonymous, who have captured the attention of an incredible variety of admirers and skeptics “by unpredictably fusing conventional activism with transgression and tricksterism”.

Argentina: Mass surveillance as a state policy
Katitza Rodriguez warns of the threats to civil liberty posed by Argentina’s plan to expand its national identity database in this piece for Global Voices: “Argentinean law enforcement will have access to mass repositories of citizen information and be able to leverage existing facial recognition and fingerprint matching technologies in order to identify any citizen anywhere”.

The prospects of Facebook activism in Uzbekistan
Transitions Online’s East of Center blog identifies the potential social and political pressures that affect online participation in political discussion in Uzbekistan.

Study: Open Data Kenya
The World Bank has published its evaluation of the ongoing development of Open Data Kenya, “one of the first Open Data initiatives in Africa”.

Towards an internet free of censorship: Proposals for Latin America
The Centre for the Study of Free Expression and Access to Information at the University of Palermo has published a study of several laws proposed in Latin America to regulate the internet, examining the responsibility of intermediaries, the management of private data, content filtering, and situations of applicable jurisdiction.

Cracking open the scientific process
The New York Times publishes a long feature charting the evolution of the open science movement, and the threat posed to it by the Research Works Act.

Book Review: “The Digital Origins of Dictatorships and Democracy”
Evgeny Morozov praises Philip Howard’s nuanced and “meticulously-researched” approach to the effects of digital technology on dissent in Muslim countries, in this review for Perspectives on Politics of Howard’s new book “The Digital Origins of Dictatorships and Democracy”.

Interview: Professor Anita Allen
The Concurring Opinions blog interviews Professor Allen about her new book “Unpopular Privacy”, which poses the question “How can a society enthralled by technology-aided revelatory communication give privacy its ethical due?”

Video: “Network”
This short animation by graphic designer Michael Rigley eloquently articulates the role internet users are playing in creating a future of information distortion, control and surveillance.

Video: “The machine is us/ing us”
The optimism of this animation about the web and the role users play in creating it, made just five years ago by cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch, stands in stark contrast to the pessimism expressed in “Network” (see above), even as it makes almost exactly the same point.

Barefoot into Cyberspace – figures for November and December

Below are the figures for how many people read/bought Barefoot into Cyberspace. The amount of data I have to present is now outgrowing my crass skills at html table-making, so I’ve started a public spreadsheet on Google Docs with these figures going back to August.

I’m providing these figures for people who are interested in the nuts and bolts of a book project undertaken outside of the world of mainstream publishing and with a Creative Commons element. When I started, I intended to provide these figures on a month-by-month basis, but as the title of this blog post suggests, I haven’t been so great at doing that. So if you want to be pinged each time I update these figures, without cluttering your RSS reader with my musings and links on new technologies and fundamental rights, I suggest that you subscribe to this RSS feed.

Aug-Oct Nov Dec TOTALS
html 4,488 197 341 5,026
pdf 3,429 278 947 4,654
ePub 593 35 301 929
Kindle 233 13 18 264
Direct 106 11 2 119
POD 130 8 21 159
TOTAL 8,979 542 1,630 11,151

Some explanation:

  • The last two days of July are incorporated in the figures for August
  • html stats are number of views as reported by WordPress
  • pdf stats are number of reads as reported by Scribd
  • ePub stats are kindly provided by Terence Eden
  • Direct stats are the number of print copies I have sold directly at speaking events
  • POD are the number of print-on-demand copies reported by Lightning Source, the print-on-demand partner for the book.
  • Kindle stats are provided by the Kindle direct publishing platform at kdp.amazon.com

Too much information: links for week ending 13 January 2012

South Korea: online identity policy phased out
Major online platforms in South Korea are taking the first steps towards ending their mandatory registration requirements following serious privacy concerns and phishing crimes, The Korea Times reports. They will also delete existing data of they have, about users’ official resident registration numbers.

India: Memo suggesting Western firms supplied intelligence backdoors is probably fake
ZDNet reports that “A US government body is investigating allegations that mobile device manufacturers Apple, RIM and Nokia allowed Indian military intelligence backdoor access to communications in exchange for Indian market presence”. The allegations follow the release by Indian hackers of an Indian Ministry of Defence memo outlining the country’s communications interception programme. The Times of India conclude the memo is probably fake, and speculate about who might be behind this “elaborate hoax”.
ZDNet | Times of India

US: Campaign against Research Works Act continues
The Alliance for Taxpayer Access, a campaign of the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), has issued a call for action against the Research Works Act, a proposed bill in the US that could reverse progress towards public access to publicly-funded research. Writing in the New York Times, Public Library of Science (PLoS) co-founder Michael B Eisen makes the case against the bill.
Call to action | Eisen Op-ed

Uganda: SIM card registration starting in March
The Uganda Communications Commission has announced that it will begin its program of mandatory mobile phone SIM card registration in March. SIM cards that have not been registered by 1 March 2013 will be cut off from the network.

Spain: Freedom of Information site hits crowd-funding target
A project to implement a Spanish version of MySociety’s Freedom of Information portal, Alaveteli, has raised €6,000 from 150 funders on the Spanish “open” crowd-funding platform, goteo.org. The project, “tuderechoasaber.es” (“Your Right to Know”), is being run jointly by Access Info Europe and a new foundation called Civio. The project team will be led by data journalist Mar Cabra.

US: Drones at home and abroad
The Atlantic invite philosopher Patrick Lin to share his presentation to the CIA’s venture-capital arm, In-Q-Tel, on the ethics of drones, looking at current and future scenarios involving the military use of robotics. The Electronic Frontier Foundation sued the US Federal Aviation Authority this week to reveal how drones are being used domestically, for example to patrol remote areas and borders.
Ethics briefing | EFF lawsuit

In search of serendipity
The Economist Intelligent Life magazine examines how the web might be narrowing our horizons: “The internet has become so good at meeting our desires that we spend less time discovering new ones.”

The limits of “cute cats”
Tom Slee and Sarah Kendzior engage with Ethan Zuckerman’s 2011 Vancouver Human Rights Lecture entitled “Cute Cats and the Arab Spring”, which emphasises the role politically-motivated shutdowns of general-purpose social media sites like YouTube and Twitter played in fomenting civil unrest in the Arab world. While Slee cautions Zuckerman not to forget the role of disruption to other institutions for public networking, such as mosques and football stadia, Kendzior emphasises the crucial missing element in the Central Asian context, public trust in dissident voices being suppressed.
Zuckerman | Slee | Kendzior

Audio: The business of lobbying
Former lobbyist Jack Abramoff reveals all the influence money can buy in the world of US politics.

Interview with Steve Jobs, CEO of NeXT Computer
Evgeny Morozov republishes Red Herring magazine’s 1996 interview with the late Steve Jobs, during his hiatus in between stints as Apple co-founder and CEO: “One way to view the Web is as the ultimate direct-to-customer distribution channel”.

Too much information: links for week ending 6 January 2012

US: Proposed law would damage open access
Open Access advocates in the United States are organising against a proposed law that would block federal research funding agencies in the United States from having open access policies, effectively denying public access to publicly-funded research. The Atlantic have published a critique of the proposed law.

Spain adopts web blocking law
The BBC reports that the Spanish government has approved anti-piracy legislation that would allow for an expedited takedown process of websites accused by rightsholders of hosting copyright-infringing material. The so-called “Sinde Law” had previously been stalled after the extent of US diplomatic pressure on Spain to enact the law was revealed by leaked diplomatic cables in late 2010.

Public domain day celebrated
The entrance of new works into the public domain was celebrated on 1 January this year. In Europe and the US, where copyright term is life of the author plus seventy years, works by James Joyce, Louis Brandeis and Virginia Woolf were welcomed into the public domain. Canada, where the term of copyright protection is twenty years shorter, welcomed works by Hemingway and Jung into its public domain.
US and Europe | Canada

US: Deadline for public access and digital data RFIs extended
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has extended the deadline to January 12 for its Request for Information (RFI) from stakeholders in the debate over public access to publicly-funded scholarly research. Non-US organisations with experience of open access policies are also invited to contribute. The original deadline was 2 January 2012.

When science is hidden behind a smokescreen
The Guardian publishes a feature which originally appeared in Le Monde, examining the study of agnotology, or the spread of misinformation: “The advocates of ignorance have gained a new ally in the form of the internet”.

10 main internet governance developments in 2011
Internet infrastructure community website Circle ID publish a collaboratively-produced review of the year, highlighting trends such as the politicisation of internet infrastructure and the rise of cybersecurity as a narrative.

SOPA, misinformation and ignorance
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), legislation currently being considered in the US to address copyright infringement, has been met by a storm of protest from civil society, academia and business. These two feature articles examine what events surrounding SOPA have to tell us about the law-making process. A feature in Miller-McCune asks how much technical expertise we should expect from legislators, while analysis published on the Cato Institute blog picks apart figures supplied by pro-SOPA advocates that dramatically overstate the cost of copyright infringement.
Miller-McCune | Cato@Liberty

Book Review: The Information Diet
Forbes reviews The Information Diet, a book written by Blue State Digital founder Clay A. Johnson that urges readers to form good habits around the information they consume.

Book Review: Too Big to Know
Evgeny Morozov reviews David Weinberger’s book “Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now that the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room”, finding the author “too incurious to interrogate the modern state of knowledge or explain which of our current attitudes toward it are driven by the Internet and which by other social dynamics”.

Is it OK to be a Luddite?
Thomas Pynchon uses a review of classic science fiction to assert the value of techno-skepticism in the computer age, in this essay published in the New York Times Book Review in 1984.

28c3 highlights: Behind enemy lines

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, hackers looked at each other and said : “w00t! Only two days to go until 28c3”.

Lego play at 28c3, courtesy of johnflan@flickr

This was the first year I went to the Chaos Computer Club’s annual Berlin shindig without taking my dictaphone. I was officially on holiday, hooking up with old friends from across the internet, and meeting a few new ones. This really is one of the finest, funnest events for computer obsessives in the whole world. Here are my highlights.

Roger Dingledine and Jacob Applebaum on TOR

For me, this talk illustrates the central role the hacker community is now playing in world events. The conference opened with a set piece from Evgeny Morozov on the perils of networked, digital surveillance, but it was this talk on Day 2 about the experiences of the TOR community with national network control infrastructures that felt like it united people at 28c3 against surveillance as a concept and a technology, in free societies as well as oppressed ones. The tub-thumping and the casual allusions to the technical vulnerabilities of state censorship technologies were tempered by the pair’s obvious expertise and considered ethical attitude. Gold.

Defending mobile phones

Two years ago, at 26c3, Karsten Nohl announced that the GSM encryption protocol had been cracked. This year, he detailed how network operators should be securing their networks while they upgrade the encryption, and asked the community to help him keep track of how the operators perform. He also previewed a new project, CatcherCatcher, which will track the activity of IMSI catchers on behalf of phone users. IMSI catchers are thought to be increasingly used by law enforcement agencies to track people via their mobile phones.

The coming war on general computation

An expertly delivered talk in which Cory Doctorow reminded congress that “information appliances” (like iPads, Kindles and all the rest) are simply fully functional computers with spyware in them out-of-the-box: “All attempts at controlling PCs converge on rootkits and all attempts at controlling the network converge on surveillance”.

Sovereign keys

The EFF’s Peter Eckersley proposes a way to fix the broken Certificate Authority system.

Towards a Single Secure European Cyberspace?

A beautifully constructed lecture cross-referencing the rhetoric used by European legislators to erode internet freedoms with the character of the new, networked activism which I ruin at the end by asking a stupid question no-one understands.

The hallway track

Random cool stuff I found out about from talking to people in and around the conference: the Open Source Next Generation Multicopter; the Hackerbus and Code Hero.

Photo courtesy of johnflan@Flickr.
Link to roundup of 27c3.