Monthly Archives: April 2012

Too much information: Links for week ending 27 April

“Internet heavyweights get behind free expression and privacy online”
The Global Network Initiative (GNI) has released its 2012 annual report, which includes “the world’s first independent assessment of technology companies’ policies and procedures for responding to government requests affecting free speech and privacy”. The independent assessment focusses on how Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! are implementing the commitment to uphold free expression and privacy they made when they joined this multi-stakeholder initiative as founding members. The Center for Democracy and Technology analyse the report’s findings, while the GNI’s Communications Director David Sullivan writes about the process for the blog.
Report | CDT | Sullivan

US: Obama issues executive order curbing surveillance exports
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reports on an executive order issued by President Obama this week “targeting people and companies facilitating human-rights abuses with technology”. The order provides for economic and other sanctions against a list of individuals and entities within Iran and Syria who are engaged in or linked to surveillance activities involving technology. The EFF welcomes the move, but indicates further steps that could be taken to protect and promote online freedoms in Iran, Syria and beyond.

Russia: Pro-Putin activists boost hacking attacks investigates the increasing use of hacker networks to suppress online dissent in Russia, noting the widespread use of cyberattacks to silence critics in the recent parliamentary elections.

Thailand: Online newspaper director faces lese majeste conviction
Human Rights Watch reports on the case of Chiranuch Premchaiporn (known as “Jiew”), the director of online newspaper Prachatai who faces a prison sentence of up to twenty years under Thailand’s Computer Crime Act for publishing ten comments allegedly insulting the monarchy from anonymous readers, comments which Prachatai subsequently removed. A verdict on the case is expected next Monday.

US: Harvard University says it can’t afford journal publishers’ prices
The Guardian reports on a memo sent by Harvard Library to its 2,100 teaching and research staff encouraging them to publish in open access journals. The memo was sent in response to price increases imposed by large journal publishers, which bill the library around $3.5m a year.

Consumers International launch IP Watchlist 2012: Israel top, Jordan bottom
Consumers International (CI) released their annual “IP Watchlist” this week. Although rankings of the thirty countries surveyed for the way their IP (intellectual property) laws treat consumers have not changed dramatically since 2012, CI note that “IP is now a political issue like never before”, detailing initiatives that could see substantial, positive changes in the coming years. launches Do It Yourself campaign tool
Online campaign group this week launched a website which helps members of their 14m-strong community launch their own petition-based campaigns, on any issue they choose. The site is currently in beta, experimental, mode.

Spotlight: Open Government Partnership
Last week saw the first major meeting of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) since the international initiative to spread transparency and accountability to governments across the globe was launched last year. The event sparked some lively online debate about the future of open government: David Eaves reflects on the tensions between different types of civil society groups at the meeting; Andrew di Maio points to evidence from the UK that Open Government is not terribly cost efficient; Rob Cronin warns that the hardest work – that of contextualising data to make it relevant to local populations – still lies ahead; and David Sasaki points to just how hard that work is likely to be in the context of fiscal data. Meanwhile, the Journal of Community Informatics have published a special issue on Open Government Data, OpenCorporates have launched a report timed with the conference ranking OGP countries for their performance on corporate transparency, and TechPresident have launched a new initiative called “WeGov”, supported by the Omidyar Network, that will track the successes and failures of Open Government on the ground.
Eaves | di Maio | Cronin | Sasaki | Community Informatics | WeGov | OpenCorporates

“A robot stole my Pulitzer”
Evgeny Morozov muses on the increasing sophistication of automated writing technologies, and makes a plea on behalf of the right to read anonymously in this short feature for

“You are Big Brother (but that isn’t so bad)”
A view of technological and regulatory developments in online behavioural tracking, as seen by Advertising Age.

Updated Africa undersea cable map
Steve Song has updated his Africa undersea cable map to reflect the “gob-stopping” announcement of an initiative to connect the BRICS countries: “I try not to be shocked any more at new announcements of undersea cable projects that are destined for African shores. But it’s no good.”
Map | BRICS cable

Open Net Initiative: Year in review
The Open Net Initiative has published a report listing key events in global online censorship and surveillance in 2011.

Going digital: Lessons from the New York Times
The Monday Note publishes a short analysis by Frédéric Filloux of the latest quarterly figures published by the New York Times, and what lessons they might have for the newspaper business.

Exhibition/video/visualisation – What the internet knows about you
The Ars Electronica Centre in Linz, Austria has launched a new exhibition called “Out of Control: What the internet knows about you”, exploring networked digital technology and the effect it has on our lives. The exhibition, which will run to the end of this year, includes a “Security/Privacy Check”, providing custom advice on ways to improve your online security, as well as Manu Luksch’s acclaimed film “faceless”, shot exclusively on CCTV cameras. Some of the exhibits can also be viewed online.
Exhibition | Video – “Did you know?” | Visualisation – “Twistori”

Too much information: Links for week ending 20 April

News special: Hackers and internet freedom
Four stories from the world of hackers and internet freedom this week. The French investigative news platform has published a detailed story about controversies in the hacker community arising from the decision of Maker Faire, a key annual hackerspace conference, to take sponsorship from the US military research agency DARPA. Meanwhile, TOR developer Jacob Applebaum has published a report on security vulnerabilities in the Ultrasurf censorship circumvention software produced by Ultrareach, a US-government backed company that was founded by Chinese dissidents, allegations to which the company has responded. Applebaum sits on the Advisory Board of a new company profiled by CNet this week, which offers privacy-friendly internet and mobile connectivity and was founded by a man who spent several years fighting a request from the FBI to disclose information about its customers. Finally, the New York Times profiled a young Lebanese man on a visit to New York to meet like-minded hackers to help him improve his encrypted chatroom software, Cryptocat.
Maker Faire controversy | Ultrasurf vulnerabilities report | Ultrareach response | Privacy friendly connectivity | Cryptocat

New research shows South African mobile prices among the highest in Africa
Research ICT Africa released a research report this week ranking countries in Africa according to the affordability of mobile telephones. Several news outlets picked up on the fact that South Africa’s regulatory regime has allowed it to slip to 30th place in the 46 countries studied. In a stirring op-ed reacting to the report, Steve Song condemns the South African government for its failures of vision and leadership in telecommunications policy.
News | Full Report | Op-ed

EU: Key legislator recommends rejection of ACTA reports that the rapporteur of the lead European Parliament committee on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), David Martin, has recommended that the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement be rejected, stating that “while the problems ACTA seeks to address are real, the unintended consequences [of the proposals] are too grave”.

US: Concerns mount over proposed cyber-security law
The Obama administration has expressed concern over the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), a proposed law currently being discussed by legislators in the US, stating “legislation that would sacrifice the privacy of our citizens in the name of security, will not meet our nation’s urgent needs”. Digital Journal has more details on the bill, including a long interview from Russia Today with the Campaign for Democracy and Technology’s Kendall Burman. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and others declared this week “Stop Cyber-Spying Week”, encouraging their supporters to contact elected representatives with their concerns about CISPA.
News | More details | Stop Cyber-Spying Week

The Economist: “When research is funded by the taxpayer or by charities, the results should be available to all without charge”
The Economist declares itself firmly in the open access camp in this week’s editorial arguing for public access to publicly-funded research.

The coming book wars
In this feature for the Atlantic, independent publisher Peter Osnos takes a snapshot of the various controversies surrounding digital books, including the recent United States Department of Justice anti-trust lawsuit against several major publishers and Apple.

Guardian series: The battle for the internet
All this week the UK Guardian has been publishing in-depth reports on internet issues, including articles on the militarisation of cyberspace, the intellectual property “wars” and the end of privacy. On Wednesday Tim Berners Lee, the godfather of the worldwide web, spoke to the newspaper about his concerns that online surveillance legislation being put forward by the UK government will undermine human rights.
Series | Berners Lee

Reflections on building a Chinese censorship program
Global Voices publishes an English translation of a pseudonymous posting by a Chinese computer programmer about his experiences developing a program for keyword filtering on mobile devices.

Debate: When it comes to politics, is the internet closing our minds?
TechPresident precis a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared in New York this week on whether today’s worldwide web can be blamed for the polarisation of American political debate. Eli Pariser of, together with Siva Vaidhyanathan, spoke for the motion, with Evgeny Morozov and’s Jacob Weisberg speaking against. You can watch the full debate online.
Precis | Full Debate

Too much information: Links for week ending 13 April

Colombia: New copyright bill being rushed through
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reports on a copyright reform bill being rushed through the legislative process in Colombia ahead of a planned visit by President Obama later this month. The bill is over-broad and concentrates only on extending the scope of rights and enforcement provisions.

Poland: Authorities abusing access to data
Another EFF report, this time on the work of Poland’s Panoptykon Foundation in uncovering widespread abuse of fast-tracked data retention laws by Polish authorities. Meanwhile Katarzyna Szymielewicz, the Panoptykon Foundation’s director, blogs on about her country’s surprise role as the hub of European protests against the harmful and secretive Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
Data retention | ACTA

US: April 25 is day of action for access to research
The Right to Research Coalition have announced a national day of action in the US, in order to encourage as much support as possible for the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), a piece of proposed legislation that would require all publicly-funded scientific research to be publicly available. In related news, this week the Wellcome Trust, the UK’s largest medical R&D funder and one of the world’s largest research charities, has announced it will support efforts to move towards open access by launching its own OA journal, eLife.
Day of Action | Wellcome

UK: Godfather of genetics warns of forensics privatisation “catastrophe”
Following the closure of the government-funded Forensic Science Service earlier this month, the Independent reports that Professor Peter Gill – the man who pioneered forensic DNA techniques – has warned that privatisation of forensic services is leading to catastrophic failures and potential miscarriages of justice.

US: Court issues decision on intermediary liability in Viacom v. YouTube reports that a court in the United States has reversed an earlier decision, indicating YouTube should be liable for copyright infringing content appearing on its site. The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) read the decision in a positive light: “While the decision is not a complete win for YouTube… the principal legal rulings appear to represent a ‘win’ for the Internet.”
IPWatch report | CDT analysis

Iran: Plans for national intranet justified using Stuxnet
Ars Technica summarises various recent reports that indicate Iran’s plan to deploy a “national internet” that makes international content and services available only to the nation’s business and political elite “is likely just a political gesture at this point”. It quotes a member of the country’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace alluding to the Stuxnet virus as justification for shutting off its citizens from the global ‘net.

Hacks of Valor
In this long feature for Foreign Affairs magazine, Yochai Benkler highlights recent signs the US government views Anonymous as a terrorist association, and calls for clear-headedness: “Seeing Anonymous primarily as a cybersecurity threat is like analysing the breadth of the antiwar movement and 1960s counterculture by focusing only on the Weathermen”.

What a Facebook response to a user data subpoena looks like
Techcrunch analyse a record, a redacted version of which was recently published by the Boston Phoenix, of a man’s Facebook data that was obtained by police in relation to a local murder investigation: “The Facebook file…intersects with a bunch of people who had nothing to do with this investigation. And the police, in this case, didn’t redact anything from that Facebook file when passing it on to the Phoenix. That leads to questions about who, ultimately, is responsible for this information?”

Africa’s stereoscopic future
Balancing Act Africa draws lessons from a recent debate about Africa’s connected future, musing that “it consists of two stereoscopic images that don’t’ always come into focus: what the developed world is doing and what Africa does differently”.

Research: Blogging may help teens dealing with social distress
The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) analyses new research showing that, contrary to popular beliefs about cyber-bullying, anonymity may actually help teenagers coming to terms with social issues.
Research | CDT Analysis

Too much information: Links for week ending 6 April

UK: Government surveillance plans leaked
Government plans to monitor every email, text message, and phone call flowing through the UK were leaked to newspapers last weekend, prompting widespread criticism. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Open Rights Group (ORG) both provide details and context of the proposals. The measures described go far beyond Europe’s controversial Data Retention Directive, which was itself passed partly in response to UK pressure. Government efforts to play down the proposals in reaction to the outcry have been weak. The Financial Times carried an op-ed by Evgeny Morozov strongly opposing the plans: “Instead of granting intelligence services more power, we need to worry about the coming convergence of the data-gathering demands of the state and the business imperatives of internet companies”.
EFF | ORG | Government response | Morozov Op-Ed

US: Legislators approve Global Online Freedom Act
TechPresident reports on the progress of a proposed law that would promote the notion of global “internet freedom” by blocking the export of US online technologies to repressive regimes.

Australia: Huawei blocked from bidding on national broadband plan
Ars Technica reports that the Australian government has moved to block Chinese-owned Huawei from bidding to deliver its multi-billion dollar National Broadband Network project, citing cyber-security concerns.

Swaziland: Lese majeste law planned
Index on Censorship reports on a proposed law in Swaziland that would make it illegal to criticise the King Mswati III on social media networks: “Internet penetration is low in Swaziland, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, but social networks have been used to organise public demonstrations, including a student protest last Monday against funding cuts”.

Polish government assigns $14m to pilot open textbooks program
Creative Commons reports on an announcement that as part of a wider program to raise ICT competencies in Polish schools, $14m has been assigned to develop digital textbooks for primary school pupils, with all material to be released under a Creative Commons licence. Information Program grantees Jaroslaw Lipszyc of the Modern Poland Foundation and Alek Tarkowski of Centrum Cyfrowe helped to draft the Digital School program. The Modern Poland Foundation dubbed the announcement: “a big win for the Open Educational Resources movement, ending several years of hard work”.
Creative Commons | Modern Poland Foundation

Open Knowledge Foundation announces Panton Fellows
The Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF) announced their first “Panton Fellows” last week – innovative graduate students and career scientists who will receive support in spreading their passion for open science and open data. Sophie Kershaw is based in the Computational Biology group at the University of Oxford’s Department of Computer Science, and Ross Mounce is a PhD student at the University of Bath studying the impact of fossils in phylogenetics.

Research special: The networked public sphere
Two recent papers and one research presentation add to the growing body of scholarship on the so-called networked public sphere. “The Revolutions Were Tweeted” by Gilad Lotan and others examines the “symbiotic relationship between media outlets and individuals” during the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings of 2011 using data gleaned from Twitter. Max Hanska-Ahy and Roxanna Shapour’s “Who’s Reporting the protests” shows how “journalistic literacy” increased among individual citizens reporting on the protests. And Yochai Benkler presents initial findings from research that has been conducted for the past two years at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society on the shape of the public sphere in the digital age.
Lotan et al | Hanska-Ahy/Shapour | Benkler

Profile: Helen Nissenbaum
The Atlantic profile New York University philosopher Helen Nissenbaum and show how her work on contextual privacy is leading to a new approach to the issue by US policymakers.

Feature: After GPS-tracking, warrantless phone tracking
In the context of a recent privacy-friendly court ruling against the use of warrantless GPS tracking, the Wired Threat Level blog and the New York Times both reported in depth last week on the extent that US police forces and other law enforcement agencies are using mobile phone tracking in their investigations.
New York Times | Wired

Book Review: “Our Biometric Future”
Evgeny Morozov reviews Kelly Gates’ history of the development of facial recognition technology, charting the economic and political forces that have shaped this still relatively unproven technology.

Video: Futurescapes
This project, a collaboration involving Sony, the Forum for the Future, the Economist’s Intelligence Unit and Wired magazine, explores the future social and political implications of technology and climate change by presenting video portraits of the world we may be confronted with in 2025.