Monthly Archives: March 2012

Too much information: Links for week ending 30 March

EU: Parliament will vote on ACTA without delay
The European Parliament has resolved not to refer the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) to the European Court of Justice, but to instead vote on whether to sign the treaty in June as planned. La Quadrature du Net cautiously welcomed the move, which follows a referral to the ECJ from the European Commission: “The Commission’s technocratic manoeuvres have not stopped the Parliament, and the door remains open to a swift rejection of ACTA.”

Pakistan: Will IT ministry shelve plan to install online censorship system?
The International Herald Tribune reports on signs that the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority may withdraw its plans to construct a nationwide website-blocking system. The news comes following a public campaign encouraging global technology corporations to boycott a bidding process to build the system. This week, the BBC ran an informative piece on “Pakistan’s quiet erosion of internet freedom”.

US: Supreme Court deals blow to gene patenting
Intellectual Property Watch reports that “The United States Supreme Court yesterday threw out a high-profile case that had allowed a private company’s patents on two human genes associated with cancer”. The Supreme Court is asking the court that ruled in favour of gene patents to reconsider its position in light of another recent judgement on the subject.

Tunisia: Local journalism collectives reclaim media space
Nawaat reports on their joint initiative with the Tunisian Ministry of Youth and Sports to foster six local citizen media collectives in locations around the country: “The goal is to have a national network of alternative and citizen media, using simple blogging platforms, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter accounts as the collectives’ technical support”.

South Korea: Digital textbook rethink
The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss highlights reports from South Korea that indicate the government may be rethinking its plan for digital textbooks to be used in every classroom by 2015, amid fears that young people are becoming “addicted” to the internet.

New version of Stuxnet-related cyber weapon discovered
ABC News details reports of a new version of a computer virus called the Duqu worm “designed to gather intelligence on industrial control systems”.

China: Twitter-Spam war against pro-Tibet activists
The Atlantic reports on a new “weapon of mass distraction” – hundreds of automated Twitter accounts which flood the hashtags #tibet and #freetibet with meaningless, spam tweets.

The NSA, US citizens, and the data centre that is bigger than the Capitol
Wired magazine published an extensive feature last week on the new data centre being built by the US’s National Security Agency in Utah. The piece, authored by one of the world’s leading authorities on the NSA, James Bamford, shows how “for the first time since Watergate and the other scandals of the Nixon administration, the NSA has turned its surveillance apparatus on the US and its citizens”. This week, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, US Attorney General Eric Holder signed expansive new guidelines allowing the US National Counter Terrorism Center to mirror and mine entire federal databases for information that could help identify terrorists. NSA chief General Keith Alexander was called in front of Congress last week to answer questions prompted by the Wired feature.
Bamford | EFF | NSA before Congress

Forensic genetics: A global human rights challenge
This post on the blog highlights the human rights challenges posed by the growing deployment of forensic DNA databases and outlines how the Forensic Genetics Policy Initiative, a collaboration between GeneWatch UK, Privacy International and the Council for Responsible Genetics, hopes to have a direct impact on the human rights standards adopted for DNA databases across the world.

Why WikiLeaks’ bid for radical transparency failed summarise new research published in the International Review of Administrative Sciences that suggests that, far from challenging “increasing authoritarian tendencies in government and the growth of unaccountable corporate power”, WikiLeaks’ activities merely served to highlight the barriers to increasing levels of transparency in the digital age.

Reflections on Fear in a Networked Society
danah boyd shares some nascent ideas on how fear operates in a networked society.

Words by the millions, sorted by software
This short feature for the New York Times outlines one project which hopes to automate some of the work traditionally done by librarians, “teaching computers to sift through the digital pages of books and articles and categorise the contents by subject, even when that subject isn’t stated explicitly”.

The shift from search to social, and web to apps
The Monday Note highlights the fact that many news websites are now getting the majority of their traffic from people clicking through from social networking sites, as opposed to people using search engines. Meanwhile, MSNBC reports on a new study from Pew that suggests that Apps could be overtaking the web, which may not be good news considering Susan’s Crawford’s view that “Apps are like cable channels – closed, proprietary, and cleaned-up experiences”.
Monday Note | MSNBC

Tools: DIY mySociety
UK civic hackers mySociety are releasing short, non-technical guides explaining how they built their key accountability and transparency sites. They’ve already released guides for people hoping to copy their FOI portal and local problem-reporting website, and expect to publish guides to their Parliamentary monitoring site and elected-representative contacting site later this year. The guides offer “a deep look at all the conceptual issues you need to think about when building these sorts of sites, no matter what technical platform you use.”

Video: Rufus Pollock on Open Data
Open Knowledge Foundation co-founder Rufus Pollock introduces the LIFT conference to the idea of Open Data, and argues that we need data to be open in order to cope with exploding information complexity.

Too much information: Links for week ending 23 March

US: Senator says ACTA requires Congressional support
Wired reports that US Senator Ron Wyden has called into question President Obama’s decision to sign the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) by executive order, rather than seek Congress’s approval of the treaty. The call comes as the treaty continues to draw concerns from citizens and legislators in Europe.

ICANN should tighten conflict of interest rules, says departing head
The CEO of the organisation that manages the internet’s domain name system, the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), told a meeting of the group last week that it needs to strengthen its conflict of interest rules. Rod Beckstrom, who will leave his post later this year, made his comments in the context of a recent and contested ICANN decision to allow the creation of new “generic” top level domains (such as .apple, .nyc), Businessweek reports. Crooked Timber provides some much-needed context to the news, and observes: “Remarks such as Beckstrom’s play right into the hands of governments that have no interest in allowing anyone else into the room when they decide on how to run the Internet”. In related news, Techdirt point to a white paper recently issued by ICANN, hinting that the organisation intends to “work more closely with governments around the world to help them seize and censor domains”.
Businessweek | Crooked Timber | Techdirt

Brazil: Blogger chased for royalty payments for embedding Youtube videos
The IP Tango blog tells the story of a Brazilian blogger who took his site offline after receiving a letter from Brazilian collecting society ECAD claiming he needed to pay royalties for videos he was embedding from YouTube and Vimeo. Following pressure from the media and Google, ECAD eventually revised their position, calling the letter an “operational misunderstanding”.

South Africa: Free textbook project reaches millions
The Times in South Africa reports that “an innovative education project has enabled the government to print more than 2.4 million free maths and science textbooks for a nominal cost”. The initiative – Siyavula – is driven by the work of the Shuttleworth Foundation’s Open and Collaborative Resources Fellow, Mark Horner.

Sweden: Pirate Bay plans sky-high flying proxy servers
The Register reports on plans announced by BitTorrent site the Pirate Bay to investigate hosting their website on servers mounted onto aerial drones, in what would be a bizarre new twist in their efforts to avoid copyright enforcement authorities.

My smartphone, the spy
This long feature for Ars Technica details the many privacy concerns that accompany the rise in popularity of smartphones.

The Open Data Handbook
The Open Knowledge Foundation have launched an “Open Data Handbook”, a definitive guide to the legal, social and technical aspects of open data, designed for anyone seeking to take advantage of networked digital technologies to open up their data to the world.

Book Review: “The Idea Factory”
Michiko Kakutani reviews Jon Gertner’s new history of Bell Labs, the research and development wing of AT&T that “was behind many of the innovations that have come to define modern life”.

Book Excerpts: “Imagine: How Creativity Works”
The New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal have each published different essays by Jonah Lehrer adapted from or inspired by his new book “Imagine: How Creativity Works”. The book argues that creativity, far from being something bestowed on just a few of us, is instead a natural human potential. The Economist reviews the book.
WSJ essay | New Yorker essay | Economist review

Video: The $8 billion iPod
In this six-minute TED talk, comic author Rob Reid satirises the alarmist economic statistics put forward by the US rightsholder lobby to justify the need for ever more powerful copyright enforcement legislation.

Too much information: Links for week ending 16 March

India: Plans for government control of the ‘net dropped
.NXT reports that India has dropped its plans to create a new United Nations body that would oversee the Internet. The plans, which were put forward at last year’s Internet Governance Forum, involved the creation of a new body to “oversee all internet standards bodies and policy organisations, negotiate internet-related treaties, and act as an arbitrator in internet-related disputes”.

Pakistan: Companies respond to call for boycott of government censorship tender
Following calls from local human rights groups to boycott a tender issued by Pakistan’s telecommunication authorities for a new web filtering system, the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) reports that McAfee, Websense, Cisco, Sandvine, and Verizon have all indicated they will not be making bids. The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre is tracking which companies are responding to calls for a boycott, and which remain silent.
CDT | Business and Human Rights Resource Centre

Germany: Extent of police email monitoring revealed
Global Voices reports on a story that broke in Germany last month concerning over-zealous surveillance of citizens’ emails: “More than 37 million emails containing particular search terms related to terrorism, smuggling and proliferation were reported to have been filtered out and examined”.

UK: cyber attack on BBC linked to Iran
The Director General of the BBC, the UK’s public service media organisation, has claimed this week that his organisation has been exposed to “sophisticated cyber attacks” he suspects to have originated in Iran.

Denmark: Police censor Google, Facebook and 8,000 other sites by accident
TorrentFreak reports that what authorities have called a “human error” on the part of the Danish police resulted in over 8,000 websites being completely blocked last week for several hours.

Burma: Government sponsors BarCamp
The Economist publishes a short report on a geek get-together, or “BarCamp”, which took place in Yangon, Burma last month, which was sponsored partly by the country’s telecommunications ministry and which was addressed by Aung San Suu Kyi: “Myanmar’s government continues to surprise the world with its new-found tolerance for change. Its apparent willingness to nurture a fledgling IT sector is no exception.”

US: New York State set to add all convict DNA to its database
The New York Times reports that “New York is poised to establish one of the most expansive DNA databases in the nation, requiring people convicted of everything from fare beating to first-degree murder to provide samples of their DNA to the state”. The Forensic Genetics Policy Initiative blog accuses the legislator responsible for championing the move of trading citizens’ civil rights for corporate profit, and points out that there is no evidence to suggest an expanded database will keep the residents of New York State any safer.
Report | Analysis

Latin America: Parliamentary Power to the People
Together with the Latin America Program, the Information Program launched a new report last week, written by Greg Michener, which investigates the online and offline strategies of parliamentary monitoring organisations in Latin America. The paper builds on a report written by Andrew Mandelbaum and published by the National Democratic Institute and the World Bank last year.

Africa’s ICT entrepreneurs: On the brink of the long Summer of Love
Russell Southwood details the reasons he’s optimistic for future African technological innovation in this feature for his telecoms site,

Watching over you: the perils of Deep Packet Inspection
This informative feature for counterpunch looks at the growing popularity of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), a technique for monitoring internet traffic, and charts its ramifications for privacy, fere expression, and net neutrality.

Meet the cynical Western companies helping the Syrian regime
In this special report, The New Republic charts how activists from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Privacy International are moving forward their campaigns against Western technology companies who export surveillance and censorship equipment to repressive regimes.

“Fighting war crimes, without leaving the couch?”
Major parts of the web were dominated this week by discussion of a video campaign (#kony2012) to raise awareness of child soldiers in Uganda that went viral. The New York Times reports on the story, while Zeynep Tufecki advises commentators to ditch the word “slacktivism” if they really want to understand what’s going on. Communicopia use the news as an opportunity to outline “Why your non-profit won’t make a KONY 2012”, and Ethan Zuckerman summarises Gilad Lotan’s analysis of how links to the video spread on Twitter: “this level of mobilisation is literally unprecedented, and extremely worthy of our attention and study”.
Report | Tufecki | Communicopia | Zuckerman/Lotan

Why has the internet changed so little?
This provocative speech, delivered by Goldsmiths Professor of Communications James Curran last December, and republished by last week, has sparked a fresh debate on whether the internet has lived up to its promise to transform society for the better.

Tracking corruption in global telecommunications
TechCentral spotlight the work of Ewan Sutherland, visiting adjunct professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, in exposing the corruption he says is rife in global telecommunications regulation.

Book: Information Graphics highlight a forthcoming book, published by Taschen, which explores the visual communication of data.

Video: Join the TOR Network!
Tactical Tech have released a video encouraging people to join the Tor network, a voluteer-led system that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the internet.

Too much information: Links for week ending 9 March

Tajikistan: Government orders ISPs to block access to Facebook and others
The Moscow Times reports that authorities in Tajikistan have ordered internet service providers to prevent their users from accessing Facebook and two Russian-language sites that published an article critical of the country’s long-serving president: “Users who tried to access Facebook or the two websites, which published a story critical of President Emomali Rakhmon, were automatically redirected to the home page of their provider”.

Why Open Education Matters: new video competition launched
To celebrate Open Education Week this week, the US Department of Education, the Open Society Foundations and Creative Commons have launched a high profile video competition to highlight the potential of open educational resources (OER). The competition invites people to create a short video explaining the benefits of OER for teachers, students and schools in the US and globally. This week, the New York Times ran two features highlighting the growing role of OER in America’s schools and colleges, focussing on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which they call a “tool for democratising higher education”, as well as emerging responses to the challenge of online certification for students of such courses.
Video competition | MOOCs | Online certification

France: Twitter censors accounts unfavourable to Nicholas Sarkozy
Internet Without Borders reports that Twitter appears to have censored four accounts parodying French president Nicholas Sarkozy. Although Twitter cited its impersonation rules when contacting the owners of the suspended accounts, archives show the accounts did not break Twitter’s rules.

Mexico: Alarming new surveillance powers granted
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reports that “the Mexican legislature today adopted a surveillance legislation that will grant the police warrantless access to real time user location data”.

UN Human Rights Council rallies on right to internet freedom of expression
IP Watch publish a detailed report on a meeting of the human rights council dedicated to discussing the importance of maintaining citizens’ right to free expression online.

Call for support for reform to EU access to documents law
Access Info have issued a call to civil society groups to support their campaign to reform laws governing access to documents at the EU.

Prizes With an Eye Toward the Future
This feature in the New York Times charts the resurgence of interest in prize funds dedicated to stimulating innovation around specific science and technology problems: “The change has come in part because of a flood of new philanthropic money (a lot of it from the tech sector) wielded by people looking for different ways of doing things, and because of a growing impatience with the limitations of in-house research and development”. The article quotes a report from Knowledge Ecology International, who have been raising awareness about the greater role prize funds should play in medical research.

Surveillance Inc: How Western tech firms are helping Arab dictators
The Atlantic publishes an in-depth report on the sale of surveillance technology by Western companies to repressive regimes: “These companies seem fully aware of what they’re doing… but far less concerned about the implications”.

Race for the South Atlantic
Steve Song provides an update on the under-reported African connectivity revolution.

Interview: Elevating the Discourse
The Boston Review interview Robert C. Post about the ideas set forth in his new book “Democracy, Expertise, and Academic Freedom: A First Amendment Jurisprudence for the Modern State”.

Paper: The new ambiguity of “Open Government”
Harlan Yu and David G. Robinson analyse how recent interest in opening up government datasets, most notable in the international Open Government Partnership initiative launched last year, threaten older understandings of what open governments – and open societies – look like, to the detriment of campaigns for transparency and accountability. Miller McCune publish a useful summary of the paper.
Paper | Summary

Fixing online identity and reputation
ReadWriteWeb reports on a three-day workshop organised in San Francisco Bay to prototype a tool called, a “reputation filter” for the internet that aims to arrest the web’s journey towards becoming an “all-out popularity contest”, and turn it into a meritocracy instead.

Drawing by Numbers
The Tactical Technology Collective have launched a new website,, which provides resources for activists and data journalists with free advice, training and resources for creating beautiful and effective data visualisations to help in campaigning, advocacy, education and analysis.

The Body Counter
Foreign Policy magazine profile the work of human rights statistician Patrick Ball.

Syllabus: Digital Media and Privacy
Helen Nissenbaum is a Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication and Computer Science at New York University and an expert in privacy and privacy law. This syllabus from her 2010 course in Digital Media and Privacy includes readings from Bruno Latour, Karl Marx, David Brin, Richard A. Posner and Daniel Solove, as well as extracts from her own book, “Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life”.

Jenny Diski on Second Life
Jenny Diski’s wry 2007 takedown of the once-extremely-fashionable Second Life for The London Review of Books: “A virtual money-market currency and built-in obsolescence is a perfect world indeed”.