Category Archives: Link Digest

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 soros.org 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
IP-Watch.org 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.

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”.
IHT | BBC

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 soros.org 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
Physorg.com 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 WhatDoTheyKnow.com and local problem-reporting website FixMyStreet.com, and expect to publish guides to their Parliamentary monitoring site TheyWorkForYou.com and elected-representative contacting site WriteToThem.com 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.
Michener
Mandelbaum

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, Balancing-Africa.com.

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 openDemocracy.net 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
BoingBoing.net 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 Hypothes.is, 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, DrawingByNumbers.org, 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”.

Too much information: Links for week ending 24 February 2012

SABAM vs Netlog – another important ruling for fundamental rights
Last week, in a case brought by the Belgian collecting society SABAM, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that social networking sites “cannot be obliged to install a general filtering system, covering all its users, in order to prevent the unlawful use of musical and audio-visual work”. European Digital Rights calls the decision “a new win for fundamental freedoms” and provides answers to frequently asked questions about the case and the meaning of its outcome.

US lobbying waters down EU data protection reform
Euractiv reports that, following “intense lobbying” from authorities and firms in the US, “the overhaul of data protection rules proposed by Viviane Reding, the European Commission vice president in charge of fundamental rights, was substantially modified before it was published”.

India: Government to track locations of all mobile users
The Indian Express reports on changes being made to mobile network operating licenses that require mobile network operators to provide the Indian Department of Telecommunications with real-time details of users’ locations: “Documents obtained by The Indian Express show that details shall initially be provided for mobile numbers specified by the government. Within three years, service providers will have to provide information on locations of all users.”

MIT launches free online course – with accreditation
The BBC reports that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will begin offering an electronics course in March, its first free course which can be studied and assessed completely online: “In this prototype stage, the online assessment will depend on an “honour code” in which home students will commit to honest behaviour. But in future, the university says, there will be mechanisms for checking identity and verifying work.”

“ACTA is part of a multi-decade, worldwide copyright campaign”
Based on an interview with Michael Geist, this feature for Ars Technica explains why intellectual property enforcement provisions that go beyond internationally agreed norms are being drafted in secretive trade negotiations: “Rather than making their arguments at the World Intellectual Property Organization, where they would be subject to serious public scrutiny, the US and other supporters of more restrictive copyright law have increasingly focused on pushing their agenda in alternative venues, such as pending trade deals, where negotiations are secret and critics are excluded.

Africa: Beyond the Frontiers of Science Fiction
In this short piece, Jonathan Dotse shares his experience growing up as a science fiction fan in Accra, and makes a compelling case for why today’s best science fiction writers are increasingly setting their work in the developing world: “Youths from Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa represent the single largest subgroup of the human population, and with the aid of advanced technology they will go on to shape the geopolitical destiny of our civilization”.

How Target knew my daughter was pregnant before I did
This long feature for the New York Times examines how large retail companies use detailed purchasing data to influence their customers’ habits, and why they’re not keen to talk about how they do it.

Internet freedom fighters build a shadow web
This (paywalled) feature for Scientific American provides a surprisingly good overview of the resurgence of interest in wireless mesh networking and the issues and challenges that face grassroots enthusiasts for re-instating the internet’s original, distributed architecture.

Does the NSA think Anonymous is the new Al Qaida?
Alexis Madrigal examines the rhetoric about Anonymous that is increasingly being used by US intelligence officials, and warns what it might mean in this piece for the Atlantic.

What we don’t know, and why, about incentives to stimulate biomedical R&D
James Love of Knowledge Ecology International takes on what he calls “strategic ignorance” about the effects of government policy on medical innovation in this short essay.

Copy Culture and the children of the web
Joe Karganis of the American Assembly at Columbia University gives a talk on his latest research into social attitudes towards copyright infringement and enforcement measures. Meanwhile, the Atlantic publish an English translation of an essay by Polish writer and commentator Piotr Czerski entitled “We, the web kids”, which gives a more individual perspective on the attitudes of the next generation: “We know how to compete and we like to do it, but our competition, our desire to be different, is built on knowledge, on the ability to interpret and process information, and not on monopolising it”.
Karganis (video) | Czerski

Too much information: Links for week ending 17 February

Tenth anniversary of Budapest Open Access Initiative
This week is the tenth anniversary of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, the declaration which coined the term “open access” and spelled out a strategy for achieving free and open access to academic research. Melissa Hagemann, who helped convene the meeting that led to the declaration, reflects on ten years of championing the Open Access movement, while Cameron Neylon of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) highlights the “remarkable prescience” of the original text.
BOAI | Hagemann | Neylon

ACTA protests take place across Europe
Last weekend, thousands of people took part in pan-European protests against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), a multilateral treaty negotiated largely in secret that threatens to take intellectual property enforcement standards beyond internationally-agreed norms. Lobbyists for rightsholders groups have written to the European Parliament, which will begin considering whether to accept the treaty at the end of this month, urging members to to ignore popular concerns about ACTA and dismissing criticisms as “misinformation”. European Digital Rights (EDRI) have issued a factsheet detailing major flaws in the information the European Commission is giving to the Parliament about the treaty.
Report | EDRI factsheet | Lobbyists’ letter

Iran: Internet access cut
Reuters reports on news that Iranian authorities “switched off” secure connections to websites hosted outside Iran over the weekend: “Many Iranians are concerned the government may be preparing to unveil its much documented national internet system, effectively giving the authorities total control over what content Iranian users will be able to access”.

Chile: Pressure on government to open up TPP negotiating process
(via Google Translate) The government in Chile have responded to mounting concerns raised by citizens that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed international treaty with implications for access to knowledge and health, is being negotiated in secret and without input from civil society groups. Derechos Digitales reports that 3,500 Chilean citizens got in touch to express their concerns to the Chilean President and his advisers, just 12 hours after the launch of their campaign highlighting the TPP, “SOPA in Chile?”.

Thailand: Criminal trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn resumes
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reports on the resumption of the trial of Chiranuch Premchaiporn (commonly known as Jiew) in Thailand this week. The free speech advocate and director of one of Thailand’s most popular alternative news sites has been charged under the country’s Lèse Majesté law, which criminalises defamation of Thai royalty, following allegedly defamatory comments left in the website’s comments section. Global Voices reports on civil society efforts inside Thailand to reform the law.
EFF | Global Voices

EU: Commissioner moves forward in favour of right to read for the blind
In a speech to the European Parliament this week, EU Commissioner for Internal Market and Services Michel Barnier has committed to seeking a mandate from EU Member States to negotiate a Treaty for the Visually Impaired (TVI) at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). The development is significant since the European Commission had thus far opposed the idea of a binding instrument to ensure minimum standards for exceptions to copyright law that allow the reading-impaired to freely share adapted materials. The campaign for the TVI has been led by the World Blind Union (WBU) in collaboration with other civil society groups.
Link to this week’s speech (begins at 20:59:52) | Previous 2011 Commission position | More info on the TVI

India: “The war on the web is a war on us”
In this editorial for Tehelka magazine, Rishi Majumder uses two legal cases against Facebook and Google that are currently making their way through the Indian court system to warn that trends around regulation of content on the Indian web threaten citizens’ fundamental rights to liberty and due process.

Africa: Mobile Phones Will Not Save the Poorest of the Poor
This article for Slate magazine argues that mobile connectivity needs to be extended to the poorest regions of Africa in order to stay the growth of a widening digital divide: “While the technologies for dramatically lowering the cost of connectivity already exist, politicians and regulators have been unwilling to enact bold policies that would deploy innovative solutions and promote meaningful competition”.

Interview: Eric King
Privacy International’s Eric King speaks to me on the soros.org blog about his year spent sneaking into arms fairs to find out about the latest in digital surveillance technology being sold to authorities in repressive regimes.

Big Data, Big Impact: New Possibilities for International Development
The World Economic Forum have released a discussion note exploring the potential of big data to inform development projects, highlighting the need for “concerted action to ensure that this data helps the individuals and communities who create it”.

Syllabus: News and Participatory Media, MIT
Full syllabus of a new class taught by the head of MIT’s Center for Civic Media, Ethan Zuckerman: “Rather than exploring the history of journalism and challenges to existing models of news production, this class will consider the news as an engineering challenge”.

“The Meme is the message”: A curated history of the Grass Mud Horse song
Bloggers at the China-focussed design blog 88-bar provide a useful summary of the subtly subversive “Grass Mud Horse” Chinese internet meme: “On the heavily censored world of the Chinese internet, memes are often the only way to get a message out there”.

Too much information: links for week ending 10 February

US: Proposed new law supports public access to research
A proposed new law that supports public access to publicly-funded research, the Federal Research Public Access Act, has been put forward with bi-partisan sponsorship (ie, support from representatives of both political parties) this week in both legislative houses of the US Congress. The Alliance for Taxpayer Access, a project of the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), reports: “The proposed bill would…require federal agencies to provide the public with online access to articles reporting on the results of the United States’ $60 billion in publicly funded research no later than six months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal.” The proposed law provides a counterpoint to the Research Works Act, another law US legislators are being asked to consider that has received the support of some traditional academic publishers (see below).

Academics vow to boycott Elsevier over Research Works Act
The Economist reports on the rapid growth of signatories to a petition calling out Dutch academic publisher Elsevier for their high prices, bundling practices, and support for the Research Works Act, a proposed US law that would deny public access to publicly funded research. The petition has been signed by over 5,000 researchers, many of whom have pledged that they will refrain from publishing, refereeing and editorial work. Elsevier requires these services, which are performed without remuneration, in order to function.
Report | Petition

Russia: Prices of popular bloggers’ posts leaked
The Guardian reports that “A pro-Kremlin group runs a network of internet trolls, seeks to buy flattering coverage of Vladimir Putin and hatches plans to discredit opposition activists and media, according to private emails allegedly hacked by a group calling itself the Russian arm of Anonymous”. The emails, sent between people involved in the Kremlin-sponsored youth group Nashi, detail payments to journalists and bloggers. Slashdot provides more background to the story.
Guardian | Slashdot

Reporters Without Borders creates mirror sites to fight censorship
Reporters Without Borders have announced they will create mirror websites that host content from organisations taken offline by cyberattacks, or blocked by censors. They will begin by mirroring content published by the Chechen magazine Dosh (which was taken offline by cyberattacks during the Russian elections last year) and the Sri Lankan online newspaper Lanka-e News, which has been blocked inside Sri Lanka since October 2011.

Privacy, free expression, and the Facebook standard
In the week of the Facebook IPO, CEO of Human Rights First Elisa Massimino encourages potential investors to examine the values of the company in this piece for Forbes: “If Facebook really were a country, its foreign policy would be on a collision course with that of the Obama administration, which has made Internet freedom — including protecting the privacy rights of users — a foreign policy priority.”

WSJ debate: Is extending patents on pharmaceuticals simply more of a bad thing?
The Wall Street Journal has published a debate on the role of patents in encouraging innovation in the pharmaceutical sector, and whether calls to extend the length of time for which a patent is granted have any merit. Josh Bloom, director of the American Council on Science and Health argues for a patent extension, while Els Torreele of the Open Society Public Health Program argues that extending patents on pharmaceuticals will do nothing to increase medical innovation.

Africa should be wary of US propaganda on intellectual property
This blog post by Open Society Public Health Program’s Brett Davidson highlights the rise of free trade agreements promoting intellectual property enforcement measures that go beyond established norms, and the threat they pose to health and education in the developing world.

We are the media, and so are you
In this editorial for the Washington Post, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, together with Kat Walsh, asks readers to recognise the stake they have in a fere and open internet, and the power they have to defend that stake.

Report: Rise of the silent SMS
European Digital Rights (EDRI) look in-depth at the increasing use by police in Europe of “silent SMSs” to track suspects using their mobile phones.

Interview: Brewster Kahle
The LA Times interview “evangelical librarian” and Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle about his various projects to preserve public access to the world’s knowledge.

Data visualisation: How Africa tweets
The Atlantic publish a data visualisation based on analysis of more than 11.5 million geolocated tweets posted during the last three months of 2011.

Audio: Rebecca MacKinnon on her new book “Consent of the Networked”
CBC’s Spark podcast interviews Rebecca MacKinnon about her new book “Consent of the Networked”, which urges its readers to stop arguing about whether the internet is good or bad for people, and start finding ways to maintain people’s rights in what is essentially a corporate-owned space.

Too much information – links for week ending 3 February

Ghana: Government launches Open Data Initiative
The Ghana News Agency reports that the government is collaborating with the World Wide Web Foundation to commence implementation of the Ghana Open Data Initiative, which will make government data freely available to citizens for re-use.

Guatemala: National Police Archive now online
The Benetech blog reflects on the recent online publication of the Guatemalan National Police Archive.

EU: Open Knowledge Foundation software will power new EU data portal
The Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF) have announced their success in winning a joint bid to build the EU’s official open data platform. Their open source software package, CKAN, will power the platform.

US: White House releases responses to open access consultation
The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy has published the responses to their Request for Information on public access to publicly-funded research.

Special: Lessons from SOPA/PIPA and the coming fight against ACTA
Draconian proposals to address the issue of intellectual property infringement continued to dominate the news this week. Yochai Benkler presents his “Seven Lessons from SOPA/PIPA and Four Proposals on Where We Go From Here” in this long feature for TechPresident, while Forbes asks “Who Really Stopped SOPA, and Why?”. Meanwhile, Michael Geist outlines what’s at stake in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), and how citizens can get their voices heard on the issue.
Benkler | Forbes | Geist

The Chronicle of Higher Ed on altmetrics
The Chronicle of Higher Education takes an in-depth look at the forces moving the academic community to find alternative metrics for the impact of their research, ones that respond better to the online environment.

Private data, public rules
Following last week’s news of a review of the data protection framework, The Economist publish a good review of global data privacy regulations.

How Russian technology provides the eyes and ears for the world’s Big Brothers
This article for openDemocracy.net examines Russia’s contribution to the global trade in surveillance technology.

Why Twitter’s new policy is helpful for free-speech advocates
Zeynep Tufecki calls on those condemning Twitter for its announcement this week that it is now able to block Tweets on a country-by-country basis to look at the company’s new policy in greater depth.

Social Media & Protest: A quick list of recent scholarly research
A useful list of recent research papers taking in the influence of social media on phenomenon such as the Arab Spring, the UK riots and the Occupy movement.

Activist Guide to the Brussels Maze
European Digital Rights (EDRI) have produced this accessible and comprehensive guide for activists working in Brussels.

Book: Sharing – Culture and the Economy in the Internet Age
“Sharing: Culture and the Economy in the Internet Age”, by Philippe and Suzanne Aigrain, is published this week. The book explores the dissemination of digital culture, offering a counterpoint to the dominant view that file-sharing is piracy and exploring models for creativity that marry remuneration and openness. A percentage of profits from the print book will go to digital rights campaigners La Quadrature du Net, an organisation Phillipe Aigrain co-founded.

Audio: Lawrence Lessig on how money corrupts Congress
In the 100th edition of the Long Now Seminar series, constitutional scholar Lawrence Lessig presents a plan to stop the corrupting influence of money in American politics.