Monthly Archives: August 2012

Too much information: Links for week ending 31 August

Spyware that can take over smartphones detected
Bloomberg reports on the discovery made by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab of spyware capable of infecting a range of smartphones including Android and iPhone systems: “The program can secretly turn on a device’s microphone, track its location and monitor e-mails, text messages and voice calls”. The spyware is thought to be consistent with a surveillance product – FinSpy Mobile – marketed by UK-based company Gamma International. It was discovered in samples provided to Citizen Lab by members of the security and activist community following revelations earlier this year that another tool in Gamma’s Finfisher surveillance suite had been used to target human rights activists in Bahrain. “The findings… illustrate how the largely unregulated trade in offensive hacking tools is transforming surveillance.”
Bloomberg | Citizen Lab

Switzerland: Police demand compulsory DNA tests for asylum seekers
The Forensic Genetics Policy Initiative reports on demands being made by the Swiss police that all asylum seekers submit to DNA testing, so that their details can be logged in a forensic DNA database: “The idea has received widespread support after police statistics for the first six months of 2012 showed a 77 per cent increase in the number of crimes committed by asylum seekers”.

Russia: Foreign Intelligence Agency seeks propaganda software
Australia’s IT News reports on details disclosed by the Russian-language newspaper Kommersant of three secret tenders thought to be issued by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, SVR, for software to monitor social networks and automatically spread information across them. The company reported as winning the contract have denied taking part in the bid.

Rwanda: Government tightens stranglehold on privacy and free expression
Privacy International report on a draft law currently making its way through the Rwandan legislative system that would sanction the widespread monitoring of email and telephone communications: “In the name of ‘public security’ Rwandan police and security forces will be able to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers and activists who criticize or oppose the Kagame regime”.

EIFL announce winners of Public Library Innovation Program awards
Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL) have announced four winners of its Public Library Innovation Program award which recognizes “innovative services that use ICT to improve lives and livelihoods”. The winners – public libraries from Uganda, Nepal, Serbia and Chile who instigated a range of projects focused on financial literacy and economic welfare – each receive $1,500.

American law is patent nonsense
In the wake of a US court decision against Samsung for violating patents Apple holds on its iPhone and iPad, Sebastian Mallaby makes a strong case against technology patents in this piece for the Financial Times (registration required). Business Insider detail in pictures the patents the court ruled were infringed by Samsung.
FT | Business Insider

The privacy of UK citizen’s medical health records is being sold off
Professor Ross Anderson of the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) details worrying plans for UK citizens’ health data to be made available to medical researchers – including those working for large drug companies – arguing that warnings from computer scientists that the security of personal records cannot be guaranteed through anonymization procedures are being willfully ignored.

Opening access to research
Peter Suber offers an accessible introduction to Open Access and the arguments in favor of public access to publicly-funded research, while Peter Webster details the various aspects of humanities scholarship that means it lags behind the sciences in take up of the Open Access way of doing things.
Suber | Webster

Report: Chile’s notice and takedown system for copyright protection – an alternative approach
The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) has released a short report on the Chilean system of notice and takedown available to copyright holders who believe their work is being infringed online, which differs from other systems, notably the US, in requiring a court order to legitimize a takedown request.

Bibliography: History of cybernetics
A bibliography curated by University of Pennsylvania historian Peter Sachs Collopy, detailing major English-language materials that chart the history of cybernetics, the “science of ‘control and communication in the animal and the machine’ which flourished from World War II into the 1970s”.

Too much Information: Links for week ending 24 August

India: Hundreds of websites blocked for inciting hate and panic
The Washington Post reports that the Indian government blocked more than 250 websites accused of inciting racial hatred this week, amid fears of escalating violence between opposing ethnic and religious factions in the country. Authorities have also barred the sending of text messages to more than five people at once.

Pakistan: Government suspends mobile services in major cities on Eid
Global Voices reports that the government of Pakistan ordered mobile phone services in four major cities—Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Quetta—to be suspended last weekend during the festival of Eid-ul-Futr “to prevent terrorist attacks.”

US: Further developments in gene patent case
Intellectual Property Watch reports on a U.S. Court of Appeals decision to partially reverse elements of a ruling by a lower court against patentability of two human genes associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. The American Civil Liberties Union, who brought the original case, have called the decision a setback and “devastating… for a women’s health.” The case will now go to the U.S. Supreme Court. Knowledge Ecology International provide further analysis of the decision.
Report | Analysis

China: Microblogging services disrupted during Gu Kailai trial
The BBC reports that users of Sina Weibo, China’s popular microblogging platform, suffered a disrupted service during the trial of Gu Kailai, the wife of a former high profile member of the Chinese Communist party, accused, and later convicted, of the murder of a British businessman.

Spotlight: digital security
Two takes on personal and institutional digital security, one from Danny O’Brien of the Committee to Protect Journalists and the other from Benetech’s Patrick Ball, one of the creators of human rights database tool Martus. Each piece highlights the security complications that relying on third-party hosted services can bring about for individuals at risk.
O’Brien | Ball

“Keeping your site alive”: New guide to surviving DDoS attacks
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have released a new guide for journalists, bloggers and activists under threat from digital censorship in the form of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. The guide, which is accompanied by a video produced by the Tactical Technology Collective, concentrates on two strategies: backing up the content of your website and mirroring it across the web.

Safety on the line: Exposing the myth of mobile communication security
This new report from Freedom House examines the security of multiple mobile technologies, including operating systems, network security and application security. It focusses on 12 countries: Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Egypt, Iran, Libya, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Does copyright matter?
Author Tim Parks imagines a world without copyright in this blog post for the New York Review of Books. “Copyright keeps the writer in the polis, and indeed it is remarkable how little creative writing today is truly revolutionary, in the sense of seeking a profoundly different model of a society. Perhaps this is a good thing. Perhaps it is limiting. Perhaps good things are inevitably limiting.”

Audio: Unlocking research
The Radio Berkman podcast interviews Peter Suber about his new book on Open Access publishing.

Video: Can democracy exist without trust?
Ivan Krastev’s talk at this year’s TED Global bemoans the erosion of people’s trust in the tools of democracy: “Democracy is the only game in town. The problem is [when] people start to believe that it is not a game worth playing.”

Too much information: Links for week ending 17 August

Google to downgrade search rankings of copyright-infringing sites
The LINX Public Affairs blog reports on Google’s announcement that it will alter its search results so that websites which its data on takedown notices shows are frequently accused of copyright infringement will appear further down the results: “critics have raised concerns about the implications of such ‘voluntary best practices’ for competition and the rule of law”.

Nepal: Government websites compromised by malicious code
Websense reports that two websites run by the government of Nepal have been compromised by the insertion of malicious code that attempts to install covert backdoors on the computer systems of site visitors. In the course of their investigations, Websense found links between this attack and other recent attacks on Amnesty International and the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies.

Amazon ends crowdfunding payment support for ebook site
paidContent reports that Amazon has removed its support for processing crowdfunded payments from eBook site, effectively halting the latter’s efforts to raise money to release books under Creative Commons licenses. A spokesperson for Amazon cited regulatory issues around providing money services as the reason for the move.

Malaysia: Blackout protest against internet censorship legislation 
Global Voices reports on an online blackout protest staged by citizens in Malaysia this week against two recent legal amendments that deal with content on the internet deemed illicit or harmful.

African civil society groups call for online free expression guarantees
A consortium of Africa-focused civil society groups including the Association for Progress Communications (APC) have concluded a two-day workshop in Nairobi with a formal statement that, among other things, calls for African states to promote affordable access to the internet, and  use their positions on the UN Human Rights Council to affirm free expression rights online.

Leaked proposals could alter fair use rules
Ars Technica reports on leaked proposals put forward by the United States in the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty negotiation process that could narrow the scope of fair use exceptions to copyright law.

Brazil: Vote on internet bill of rights delayed
The Daily Dot reports that a parliamentary vote on Brazil’s landmark internet bill of rights the “Marco Civil”, scheduled to take place last week, has been delayed. Officials gave no reason for the delay.

How terrorists (really) encrypt
This detailed presentation from investigative journalist Duncan Campbell includes extensive evidence from anti-terror cases about how terrorists conceal their communications with one another: “The spectre of terrorism networks hiding behind unbreakable encryption has been a war cry for security agencies, supporting their claim for [action against cryptography] for 20 years”.

The sounds that precede a shot rang out
In this blog post for the London Review of Books, Evgeny Morozov details how sensor data, citizen-led surveillance and historical data converge in the technology touted by the latest victim of WikiLeaks, TrapWire Inc, and asks how far our appetite for automated crime detection will go.

Open Access: will global developments inspire the US?
This feature in the Chronicle for Higher Education charts policy developments supporting public access to publicly-funded research in Europe and asks whether they will spur the Obama administration to respond positively to pressure to enact similar policies in the US.

Social networking and ethics
The open-access Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has published a new entry on Social Networking and Ethics, including a section on “Democracy, Freedom and Social Networking Services in the Public Sphere”.

The risks and rewards of a health data commons
O’Reilly Tech Radar interview John Wilbanks, senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation and director of the Consent to Research Project (as well as former leader of Creative Commons’ Science Commons project) about a future in which people might be able to donate their health data to science the way they donate their organs today.

Video: The Cynefin Framework 
This short video demonstrates a framework for making decisions that takes the basic context of any problem or issue (simple, complicated, complex, chaotic) as a starting point for deciding how to tackle it. Of particular interest is the way the framework is able to explain the contrasting approaches to problems employed by bureaucrats, experts and politicians, based on the domains in which they routinely operate.

Too muck information: Links for week ending 10 August 2012

Brazil: Crucial week for internet “Bill of Rights”
Global Voices Advocacy reports on the “Marco Civil da Internet”, Brazil’s Internet Bill of Rights, which is set to be voted on by Brazilian lawmakers this week. The law establishes a clear set of rights and responsibilities for internet users, with important provisions on net neutrality and the protected role of internet intermediaries like ISPs. “Rather than framing digital policy as a matter of criminal violations [Marco Civil] puts forth a clear set of rights for users and aims to balance these with the interests of online companies and law enforcement.”

US: Victory over proposed Cyber-spying law
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reports that legislators in the US have rejected a proposed law that would have given companies new rights to monitor private communications and pass data about them to the government. The development follows a grassroots internet campaign against the proposed law.

Nigeria: Senate President calls for social media censorship
Global Voices details the Nigerian blogosphere’s reaction to calls from David Mark, the President of Nigeria’s Senate, to clamp down on social media, in order to prevent it being used by people to “demean their leaders”.

France: Three strikes law risks “death by a thousand cuts”
Time World reports on the Socialist government recently elected in France and their approach to a controversial law, passed by the last administration, designed to reduce levels of online copyright infringement by threatening those accused of infringement with being cut off from the internet. The French Culture Minister has indicated she believes the law is disproportionate and is set to slash funding to the agency that administrates it. However, the left’s reliance on political support from the creative industries may stop it from repealing the law outright.

The United Nations and the internet
Writing for Foreign Policy, Rebecca MacKinnon charts the history of attempts by the UN’s International Telecommunications Union to wrest control of the internet from a US-centric multi-stakeholder process that is not without its own flaws, and details the movements emerging to ensure future internet governance bodies can protect citizens from the convergent interests of repressive governments and monopolistic telcos.

The Naked and the TED
In this long and scalding review for the New Republic, Evgeny Morozov dismantles several recent pamphlets published by TED Books, the publishing arm of the Technology Education Design conference franchise or, as he calls it, “insatiable kingpin of international meme laundering”.

An Olympics fantasy Deputy Editor David Hayes picks apart the messages that have been spun from events – cultural and political, as well as sporting – surrounding the Olympic Games in London, exposing as he does so that failings of modern mass media.

Journalism, hype and security
In this strongly worded blog post, OSF fellow Chris Soghoian takes aim at journalists who hype new security tools without adequately checking whether they live up to the claims of their creators. Wired, one of the outlets named and shamed in the piece, respond in a forceful post that accuses Soghoian of arrogance and entreats him to recognize that no tool can be completely secure.
Soghoian | Wired

Is the academic publishing industry on the verge of disruption?
This long feature for US News charts developments in Open Access publishing in the US.

Audio: Behind the scenes of the internet
BBC Radio 4 are serializing Andrew Blum’s book “Tubes: Behind the scenes of the internet” all this week. The book charts the author’s quest to document the physical infrastructure that powers cyberspace.

Too much information: Links for week ending 3 August 2012

Advocates call out EU/US stalling on right to read for visually impaired
IP Watch and the Hindu report on the outcome of the 24th meeting of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), where proposals to standardize exceptions to copyright law in order to enable much greater access to reading materials for the visually impaired were discussed. Although progress towards an international treaty establishing the policy remain “on course”, access to knowledge advocates including Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) and Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD) expressed disappointment at what they saw as stalling tactics from the EU and US delegations.
IP Watch report | The Hindu | KEI | TACD

Israel: High Court judges express concerns over “harmful” biometric database
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reports on a heated debate taking place in Israel over whether the government should move forward with its creation of a  biometric database containing digital fingerprints and facial photographs of Israeli citizens.

UK: Twitter “caught out” in journalist ban
The Independent reports on a story involving one of their own journalists, Guy Adams, whose Twitter account was suspended after he tweeted the publicly-available email address of an NBC television executive, encouraging his followers to complain to the executive about NBC’s coverage of the Olympics opening ceremony. Twitter have since reinstated the account, but not before the story caused outrage among Twitter users, and suspicion that Twitter’s actions may have been motivated by its commercial relationship with NBC.
Report | Op-ed

Peru: Online crime bill harms privacy and free expression
The EFF reports on a proposed law in Peru that it says would criminalize legitimate security research, as well as compromise citizens’ privacy: “the Peruvian Congress should postpone voting on the bill, and hold an open and democratic debate”.

Spain: security researchers reveal iris scanners can be tricked
The BBC reports on news that researchers in Spain have successfully recreated the image of an iris from information about real irises stored in security databases: “While researchers have been able to create realistic iris images for some time, it is thought that this is the first instance where the fake image can be generated from the iris code of a real person – a method which could be used to steal someone’s identity”.

Mobile participatory budgeting helps raise tax revenues in Congo
This long report for O’Reilly Tech Radar analyses the positive outcomes from a technology-mediated participatory governance project convened by the World Bank in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Social Impact Games: Do They Work?
The Knight Foundation publishes evaluation reports of two projects it funded – Macon Money and Battlestorm – that used gameplay to achieve a social impact.

Digital Freedom of Expression in Uzbekistan
This paper, produced by the New America Foundation, makes policy recommendations aimed at strengthening freedom of expression in Uzbekistan, including “encouraging circumvention efforts, developing safe spaces for online discourse, and translating, copying, and preserving Uzbek online media”.

Surveillance briefing: Bahrain
This briefing, produced by Privacy International, “provides an overview of privacy and surveillance laws, policies and practices in Bahrain”.

Infographic: Timelines of technology adoption
The Atlantic’s Alex Madrigal analyses two graphs showing how quickly technologies from radio to mobile phones have been adopted in the United States.

Video: Privacy tricks for activist web developers
EFF web developer Micah Lee’s presentation from the Hackers on Planet Earth 9 conference held in New York City earlier this month. Highly technical, it includes expert advice on how to avoid the tricks major platforms like Google, Facebook and Twitter employ to harvest data from users of your website by employing some tricks of your own, and should be required viewing for web developers working on activist websites.