Category Archives: Link Digest

Too much information: Links for week ending 5 October 2012

Russia: The Kostin Report and the Trojan Horse of American ICT
Global Voices gathers reactions from around the Russian blogosphere to a draft report produced by an organization with ties to the Medvedev government on “foreign penetration of the Russian internet and the potential manipulation of the country’s future elections”.

Macedonia: New law on insult and defamation risks danger of censorship
The Metamorphosis Foundation for Internet and Society reports on a draft law currently being considered by the Macedonian Parliament which contains insult and defamation provisions they say could encourage third party service providers to censor online content overzealously.

Japan: Penalties for illegal downloads introduced
The BBC reports that Japan has introduced criminal sanctions, including 2–year prison sentences or fines of up to 2 million yen ($25,700), for internet users who download copyright–infringing files: “In theory the new download punishments can be enforced if a user is found to have copied a single pirated file”.

US: Schools should move from print to digital content by 2017, says report
US education technology group the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) has issued a report arguing that schools should switch to digital educational materials by 2017. The report includes “a blueprint for states and districts looking to switch over to digital content”.

Global Integrity launch Innovation Fund “Testing 123”
Global Integrity are calling for “brand–new, half–crazy, never tried before ways of addressing the challenges of transparency and accountability” to be submitted by November 16, 2012 for a chance to win $10,000 to develop and test the ideas. Up to fifteen prizes are up for grabs.

Smartphone malware in the lab and in the wild
Two reports from Fast Company magazine on vulnerabilities in smartphone—and particularly Android—software. The first details an experimental smartphone Trojan called PlaceRaider, developed by security researchers to demonstrate how an Android phone’s camera, accelerometer, and gyroscope functionalities could be hijacked to remotely construct “3–D models of users’ apartments for burglars and assassins”. The second details a new report from McAfee that found nearly 4,500 pieces of mobile malware in the second quarter of 2012: “The vast majority of the new malware discoveries were for Android phones… Barely any iPhone or iPad malware was discovered”.
In the lab | In the wild

New Surveillance Frontier: Your license plates
This Wall Street Journal feature reports on an upsurge in routine, automated tracking of vehicle license plates, creating huge datasets on the physical movements of entire populations. “The rise of license–plate tracking is a case study in how storing and studying people’s everyday activities, even the seemingly mundane, has become the default rather than the exception. Cellphone–location data, online searches, credit–card purchases, social–network comments and more are gathered, mixed–and–matched, and stored in vast databases.”

Open Aid Data: 106,780 German development aid projects at a glance
Open Knowledge Foundation Germany (OKF–DE) have launched a new open data portal providing graphic representation and in depth analysis of the activities of the German state development cooperation over the last ten years.

History, as recorded on Twitter, is vanishing from the web
Technology Review reports on research highlighting how the loss of Tweets posted during key historical events such as the Egyptian uprising might affect our understanding of those events in the future.

Ireland: Closing the door to Open Government?
The Open Government Partnership blog accuses Ireland of closing the door on open government initiatives after it withdrew its support for open standards in the way it publishes the Irish National Parliament records: “when presented with the Open Government Partnership argument, [the] response was to challenge the cost of OGP rather than seek out the most beneficial advantage”.

Audio: Robotics
Podcast from the BBC’s Outrider’s series that examines issues in robotics including funding, ethics, language and humanity.

Too much information: Links for week ending 28 September 2012

EU: Leak reveals plans for large–scale communications surveillance
European Digital rights have published a document containing a worrying set of draft recommendations emerging from the European Commission’s CleanIT project discussions, originally established “to fight terrorism through voluntary self–regulatory measures that defend the rule of law”. The document details proposals that, far from defending the rule of law, include mass internet filtering and surveillance regimes, as well as dramatic, detrimental changes to legislation around liability and privacy.

Argentina: Two proposed laws spell good news for access to knowledge
Intellectual Property Watch reports on two laws being proposed in Argentina—one to extend exceptions and limitations to copyright law for the benefit of libraries, archives and museums, and one to mandate public access to publicly–funded scientific research.

UK: Public prosecutor to issue guidance following Twitter cases
Following several high–profile cases of criminal charges being brought against users of Twitter in the UK, the country’s Director of Public Prosecutions has issued a statement outlining his intentions to publish guidelines for such cases in the future, inviting contributions to the guidelines from stakeholders including civil society groups.

New research uncovers dramatic disclosures smartphones make about their users
The Register reports on new security research showing how easy it is to obtain a smartphone users’ home address simply by “passively listening” to the device’s attempts to join a wireless network: “Smartphones tend to keep a record of Wi–Fi base stations their users have previously connected to [which] makes it too easy for the researchers to link home addresses and other information to individually identifiable devices”.

Knight News Data Challenge winners announced
The Knight Foundation has announced the winners of its “Knight News Challenge: Data” competition. The six winners, who will share a funding pot of $2.22m consist of “ventures that make it easier to access and use information on local communities, air quality, elections, demographics and more”.

Traditional scholarly publishing: How do you recognize a catastrophe?
Kevin Smith, Scholarly Communications Officer at Duke University, has published an investor report produced by Bernstein Research analyzing “catastrophic” threats to Reed Elsevier from the rise of Open Access publishing. Smith argues that the key to survival for traditional publishers will be in reducing their costs.

Journalistic deficit disorder
Mainstream media often report dramatic scientific findings based on a single study, but systematically fail to note later studies which contradict or complicate the initial finding.  This piece in the Economist argues that popular reporting on science suffers from a widespread failure to appreciate a core value of scientific culture, namely that “the refutation of plausible hypotheses is the way that science progresses”.

The Open Government Partnership’s make or break year
This post on the Global Integrity blog details the challenges facing the Open Government Partnership in the next year, including its ability to fill a gap in its leadership, and to live up to its good governance ambitions.

Ushahidi in (sobering) numbers
The Democracy Spot blog summarizes an external evaluation of the crowd–sourced mapping platform Ushahidi conducted by Internews.

Infographic: Open Educational Resources
Created by the 20 Million Minds Foundation, this infographic provides details on and explanations for recent legislative developments in California that have paved the way for mass adoption of Open Educational Resources in colleges across the state.

Too much information: links for week ending 21 September 2012

Brazil: Internet Bill of Rights vote postponed again
Voting on the “Marco Civil”, Brazil’s proposed internet bill of rights, has been delayed for the third time since June, Global Voices reports. The vote, which was scheduled to take place this week, will now happen after October’s municipal elections.

UK: Twitter raises privacy concerns with UK communication surveillance proposals
Out– reports that Twitter has outlined its concerns with proposed new surveillance laws to the UK government, saying the draft Communications Data Bill could place it in a “legally untenable position”: “Twitter said that it may inadvertently collect information of non–UK users of its service during the process of complying with the requirement [breaking] privacy, data protection and data retention laws that apply in other jurisdictions”.

Philippines: New Cybercrime Prevention Act troubling for free expression
The Electronic Frontier Foundation raises concerns about libel provisions, inserted into a new law in the Philippines without public debate, that extend criminal penalties for libel to the online sphere: “The United Nations Human Rights Council has determined that the criminal sanctions imposed on those accused of libel are incompatible with Article 19, paragraph 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).”

Czech Republic: Police ordered to shred part of DNA database
Prague Monitor reports that “The Czech Office for Personal Data Protection (UOOU) has ordered the shredding of some data from the National Crime database of DNA Profiles whose storage does not reflect the gravity of a crime”.

35 reasons to worry about privacy in Africa
Steve Song tracks the growing trend for SIM card registration in Africa, which is already mandatory in 35 countries on the continent, raising concerns about data security and surveillance, as well as demanding evidence that the policy actually helps reduce crime.

Open Data and FOI Communities: signs of convergence
A long article on that draws on interviews with activists and stakeholders from the Freedom of Information (FOI) and Open Data movements to detail and welcome the emergence of more cooperation between the two transparency communities.

Reflections on Google and the Innocence of Muslims video
The New York Times analyses Google’s decision to block access in Egypt and Libya to the “Innocence of Muslim” video inspiring violent protests across the Muslim world. “Google’s action raises fundamental questions about the control that internet companies have over online expression. Should the companies themselves decide what standards govern what is seen on the internet? How consistently should these policies be applied?”

ITU and threats to net neutrality: analysis
La Quadrature du Net summarize analysis and debate surrounding new proposals put forward by the telecommunications industry for discussion at this December’s controversial meeting of the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union (ITU). They warn that the proposals are a danger to the principle of net neutrality and could hurt freedom of communication, undermine privacy, hamper innovation and competition and decrease incentives to invest in internet infrastructure.

Audio: Terms of Service activism
In this extra edition of CBC’s Spark podcast, Nora Young talks to blogging entrepreneur Anil Dash about the regulatory ramifications of the shift major technology companies are making away from producing gadgets towards providing services, and why we should all become “terms of service activists”.

Too much information: links for week ending 14 September 2012

Coalition unite around goal to make Open Access the norm by 2022
A coalition of scientists, foundations, libraries, universities and advocates this week issued a detailed set of recommendations with the aim of making it the norm for access to scholarly research material to be free and available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection, in every field and every country, by 2022. The announcement comes ten years after the Budapest Open Access Initiative first defined Open Access, beginning a movement that has already significantly transformed the academic landscape.
Announcement | Recommendations | Coalition

UK: Government controlling exports of surveillance tools
Privacy International reports that further to questions they posed the UK government earlier in the year, they have received notification that a surveillance product originating in the UK and suspected to be used to target activists in Egypt, Turkmenistan, Bahrain, Dubai, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Mongolia and Qatar is now the subject of export controls: “We welcome the government’s decision to start controlling exports of FinSpy, and it is certainly a step in the right direction. However, without swift further action to bring other unethical British companies under the export licensing regime, it’s just a sticking plaster on a bullet wound”.

Latin America and the Caribbean news roundup
Global Voices Advocacy produce news roundup “The Netizen Report” each week covering developments in human rights and technology across the globe. Last week they published the first in a series of occasional regional updates from Latin America and the Caribbean, including news of developments in legislative moves towards an internet bill of rights in Brazil, and a grassroots campaign in Chile “with the goal of empowering citizens by giving them tools to enjoy, without fear, freedom of expression online”.

Belarus: Journalists and cyber–dissidents hounded in run–up to election
Reporters Without Borders catalogues the harassment of opposition media taking place ahead of upcoming Parliamentary elections in Belarus. Targets include moderators of pro–opposition groups on the Russian social network VKontake. The authorities also succeeded in hacking two online discussion groups with a total of 52,000 members, obtaining the identities of administrators.

US: New law supporting OER passed
The Creative Commons blog reports on a new law passed in California that will allow state community colleges to integrate open education resources (OER) into their core curricula, creating and enabling access to high quality course materials and textbooks.

Apple moves one step closer to location–based camera disabling
The PetaPixel blog reports on their discovery of a patent filed by Apple on technology to allow the remote disabling of camera functionality based on a mobile phone’s location: “If this type of technology became widely adopted and baked into cameras, photography could be prevented by simply setting a “geofence” around a particular location, whether it’s a movie theatre, celebrity hangout spot [or] protest site”.

World Wide Web Foundation release first “web index”
The Worldwide Web Foundation has released its first “Web Index” report, a “multi–dimensional measure of the Web’s growth, utility and impact on people and nations”. Sweden tops the list of 61 countries surveyed. And, as First Post reports, India lags 13 places behind China. The methodology of the ranking looked at three parameters: “web readiness”, “web use” and “the impact of the web”.
Web Index | First Post report

Call for Proposals: ICT for democracy and freedom of expression
The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) has issued a call for proposals inviting civil society groups to apply for funding for initiatives where information communications technology is being used to support democracy and freedom of expression. The deadline for submissions is 18 October 2012.

Understanding digital civics
Ethan Zuckerman publishes the transcript of a lecture he delivered last month, which examines the internet’s role in changing modes of civic engagement. In the course of the lecture he interrogates four “born digital” movements: Tea Party, Occupy, Anonymous and WikiLeaks.

Lies, damned lies, and open data
In this feature for Slate, David Eaves describes how the battleground for government transparency will shift from open government data towards the role of evidence in public policy–making.

Report: Threats to freedom of expression online in Vietnam
The Open Net Initiative has published a new report into online censorship in Vietnam. It outlines new legal restrictions on speech being proposed in the country, and reports on the results of recent in–country testing to document and analyze state–level filtering.

Too much information: links for week ending 7 September 2012

India: Government to hold talks with stakeholders on Internet censorship
Following its recent response to growing ethnic unrest, which included the blocking of websites and network–level restrictions on mass SMS, the Indian government “has agreed to initiate dialogue on internet censorship with mega internet companies, social media giants such as Google and Facebook, members of civil society, technical community, media, ISPs and legal experts”, the Hindu reports. The Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) provides detailed analysis of the blocks that took place, their legality, and the increasing national debate surrounding the government’s decision to act as it did.
The Hindu | CIS

Czech Republic: Extortionists suspected of using covert mobile surveillance tech
Slate reports on revelations from a senior police chief in the Czech Republic that unauthorized use of “IMSI catchers”—sophisticated computer hardware that collects information about mobile phones and their users and can track and intercept phones and calls—has been detected “across the country”. The police suspect the hardware may be being used for corporate espionage or criminal extortion. “The use of the technology by police — let alone criminals — is controversial”.

Apple rejects app that tracks US drone strikes
Wired reports on the Apple App Store’s decision to reject an app that can notify users each time a US drone strike occurs. The app, which draws its content from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s ongoing project to map America’s increasing use of drones for targeted assassinations, was rejected on the basis that its content is “objectionable and crude”. As Alex Madrigal writes in the Atlantic, the move highlights how Apple’s control of the smartphone market threatens the free flow of information.
Wired | Atlantic

Donations rise for WikiLeaks to post Trans–Pacific Partnership text
IP Watch reports that nearly $25,000 has been collected to hand over to WikiLeaks if it leaks the text of the Trans–Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, a controversial and secretive multilateral treaty currently under negotiation that is thought to contain provisions that threaten privacy and free speech online and reduce access to medicines in the developing world.

Kenya: Blogger in court over airline safety post
Kenya’s Daily Nations reports on the case of blogger and journalist Dennis Itumbi, who has been charged with intercepting data without consent and publishing depraving electronic material, after he revealed emails between executives at Jetlink airlines that raised serious safety concerns.

You, robot?
The Economist reports on the RoboLaw project, a research project launched earlier this year to consider the legal and ethical issues raised by developments in robotics: “Is a prosthetic legally part of your body? When is it appropriate to amputate a limb and replace it with a robotic one? What are the legal rights of a person with ‘locked in’ syndrome who communicates via a brain–computer interface? Do brain implants and body-enhancement devices require changes to the definition of disability?”

New from CDT: ITU Resource Centre
Ahead of a controversial meeting of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) this December, where new proposals that have an impact on who governs the internet are scheduled to be discussed, the Campaign for Democracy and Technology (CDT) have launched its ITU resource center, aimed at providing documents, analysis and calls to action for advocates and activists.

Report: An overview of the patent trolls debate
The US Congressional Research Center have produced a new study on so–called “patent trolls”, companies whose business model “focuses not on developing or commercializing patented inventions but on buying and asserting patents” The report details the various factors that have led to their ascendance and the cost they pose to innovation.

A knight in digital armor
The Economist profiles security researcher Chris Soghoian: “With a series of… exploits that have exposed security flaws and privacy violations, he has demonstrated his ability to hack the media with just as much facility as he manipulates computers”.

I am Barack Obama, Ask Me Anything
In the run–up to the US election, President Barack Obama has ventured into the influential online community Reddit, participating in what is known there as an “AMA” (“Ask Me Anything”), where community members submit and vote on questions which are then answered (or ignored) by a prominent or interesting figure. The resulting discussion is as interesting for the questions the President ignored as for the answers he did give.


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.”