Category Archives: Politics

Spotted! Me on Resonance 104.4 FM tonight, interviewing Evgeny Morozov

Image of radio studio Update: The interview is now available for download.

For the next three months, I’ll be filling in for Rebecca Watson, hosting one of my favourite radio shows, Little Atoms on Resonance 104.4FM. This evening at 7pm the first of my co-hosting efforts will be broadcast. You can listen online or download the podcast (I’ll update this post when that goes out, or subscribe via iTunes here) .

Little Atoms rocks. Ever since Neil Denny asked me to fill in for Rebecca at the end of last year, I’ve been really excited about this first show, interviewing author of The Net Delusion Evgeny Morozov. Evgeny is a sharp thinker with a great sense of humour, he writes brilliantly about all the issues I care about, and his accent (Evgeny was born in Belarus) is radio heaven. We pre-recorded the interview on Wednesday this week, ready to go live tonight. But all did not go to plan.

Picture the scene. It’s half an hour before the recording is due to start and I’m standing outside the gates to the Resonance studios. It’s cold. Nobody inside the studios is answering the doorbell. Perhaps, I think, nobody is inside the studios. I get a text from my co-host Padraig Reidy saying he’s running late – very late – thanks to a Tube fail on the Northern line. I may have to do this one on my own. It’s at this moment that Evgeny pulls up in a taxi with his publicist.

Evgeny MorozovIf I sound a little shaken at the beginning of the recording, then that’s my excuse. Of course it all worked out in the end, thanks partly to Annie the producer (thanks, Annie!) and mostly to Evgeny’s patience and kindness.

I’m not sure Evgeny would welcome me outing him as a thoroughly nice chap given his public image as the scourge of cyber-utopians. In the 30 minute interview, we discuss the flawed metaphors, shoddy evidence and general naivety that has contributed to the US State Department’s Internet Freedom agenda, the hypocrisy of that agenda as revealed by Wikileaks, and the danger that agenda poses to citizens of autocratic regimes everywhere. Go listen.

Image credits: Ross Murray@Flickr (radio studio) oso@Flickr (Evgeny)

Echoes of Phorm in mobile phone hacking story

Back when the Open Rights Group was campaigning against the targeted advertising company Phorm, one of the discoveries we made was that UK citizens had very few avenues of redress when private companies intercept their communications illegally. The Information Commissioner only regulates data processing (and of course, FOI), and not communications interception. And the Interception of Communications Commissioner is only set up to regulate the interception activities of public authorities, (law enforcement, etc). If you suspect your communications are being intercepted by someone on the make, you either have to put up with it, or persuade the CPS to prosecute.

So I’ve been following the current storm around the illegal “hacking” of MPs’ and others’ mobile phones with some interest. Although it’s not clear to me what this hacking actually consisted of, and whether it could be classed as an interception, it certainly isn’t a matter for the Information Commissioner. Which might explain why invocations of the ICO have gradually disappeared from the rhetoric surrounding possible avenues of redress for those affected.

Of course, if you’re an MP and your communications get intercepted by a private company, you have it in your power to change the law so that private individuals such as yourself can be better protected in the future. Then again, it’s probably much more expedient to the use the resources bestowed on you by the tax-paying public to cover your own arse and leave it at that.

Hacks and hacking

I’m saving up the third book in Stieg Larsson’s Milennium Trilogy for my beach holiday in Ibiza next week. It’s difficult. The first two were so compelling that I can hardly wait to pick up the third – and last (Larsson died in 2004, before he saw the strange fruits of his imagination garner international acclaim). In being addicted to his characters, I’m not special. On my journey to Boston last week there was a person reading one of the series sitting next to me on the airplane on both flights. But I think the books have an even bigger hold on me because their two main characters are a computer hacker and an investigative journalist.

Here’s the trailer for the film:

When I return from Ibiza, I’ll be joining the good folk at the UK Online News Association for a conversation about “hacks and hacking”. The hacks we’ll be talking about are not computer exploits performed by script kiddies, but living, breathing hacks, ie journalists. And the hackers we’ll be discussing are not the blackhat/grayhat masters of subterfuge cut from Lisbeth Salander’s cloth, but the data mashers and techie geeks who get their thrills from analysing and visualising official information. That’s right, folks, we’ll be talking data-driven journalism.

Rufus Pollock, co-founder of the Open Knowledge Foundation and the man without whom no journalist could have made sense of the recently released Treasury database on government spending COINS, will also be there. Here’s the blurb:

UK MPs expenses was one of the biggest stories of 2009 that has continued to be felt well into 2010. It was at its heart a story of detail, data and piecing information together and is just one example of how developers and journalists are working together.

What does this mean for the future of journalism and news gathering? ONA UK invites you to an evening exploring Hacks & Hacking with:

Dr. Rufus Pollock – Mead Fellow in Economics at Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge and a Director of the Open Knowledge Foundation which he co-founded in 2004. He has worked extensively, as a scholar, coder and activist on the technological, social and legal issues surrounding access and sharing of knowledge. Under his lead Open Knowledge Foundation recently launched Where Does My Money Go to analyse and visualise UK public spending.

Becky Hogge – journalist and writer on information politics, human rights and technology. Becky is former managing editor of OpenDemocracy during which time she helped establish the China environment website Becky sits on the Advisory Councils of the Foundation for Information Policy Research and the Open Rights Group.

Chaired by Kathryn Corrick

Reserve your place here.

Three Strikes… and you’re out?

Could it be the curse of Gowers? It’s been over 3 years since the former Financial Times editor made his seemingly doomed 39th recommendation in his otherwise excellent review of intellectual property:

Observe the industry agreement of protocols for sharing data between ISPs and rights holders to remove and disbar users engaged in ‘piracy’. If this has not proved operationally successful by the end of 2007, Government should consider whether to legislate.

Since then, it seems every minister tasked with overseeing implementing his idea has only just got in post before they are running for the door again. The news today that Sion Simon MP will step down as creative industries minister (and, indeed, get out of Westminster altogether) inspired me to write a list of all the other Ministers I could think of who’ve once been responsible for this policy, then legged it.

  • Baroness Delyth Morgan (reshuffled)
  • Baroness Shriti Vadera (stepped down to advise G20)
  • Andy Burnham MP (promoted)
  • Lord Stephen Carter (resigned)
  • Sion Simon MP(resigned)

I’m not sure this list is chronological, or indeed exhaustive – please help me revise it if you can. And of course, it may yet be incomplete. Last Summer, I predicted that the Digital Economy Bill – the latest zombie incarnation of this wretched policy – would be Peter Madelson’s undoing. I remain hopeful I was right.

How it makes of your face a stone…

I have had Carol Ann Duffy’s first poem as laureate – Politics – stuck up on my fridge since it was published in June. Tucked somewhere within it is the reason I decided I’d had enough of lobbying in Westminster and Brussels and handed in my notice at the Open Rights Group.

Today, Lord Mandelson has occasioned a re-reading of this excellent verse. His Department for Business has released a statement detailing an “evolution in their thinking” on the issue of how to tackle illicit sharing of copyrighted files across peer to peer networks. The aspect of this evolution that has caught the attention of the popular press is that disconnecting internet connections (the “three-strikes and you’re out” model recently ruled unconstitutional in France) is now back on the table. Given this, I’m not sure the word “evolution” or even, for that matter, “thinking” applies.

Shall we pretend this matters? Shall we again list the reasons why excluding – punitively, yet without due process – British citizens from the most transformative communications medium of the last several hundred years is a poor policy response to the failure of an over-consolidated and outmoded industry to adapt their business practices to consumer demand?

Mandelson is not the first Minister at BIS/BERR/DTI to believe, no doubt after a few visits from some sexy people in the record / movie industries, that the illicit filesharing issue needs nothing more than his personal political touch for it all to be solved. Not politics, then, so much as vanity. On the bright side, as the complexities of this issue reveal themselves once more, and Mandy’s self-belief fades as quickly as his suntan, at least the resulting public failure to deliver on this “evolution” might prove humiliating enough to permanently mark the “three strikes” model with Whitehall’s “Here Be Dragons” stamp, ensuring that even the most cloth-eared Tory successor would be unlikely to go near it come next year. Although of course, to ensure this happens, we should all continue supporting the work of my less jaded and remarkably patient former colleagues at the Open Rights Group.

In the meantime, the civil servants at BIS tasked with delivering actual workable policies on this issue must be sighing heavily and mentally postponing their retirement again today.