Monday Dec 14, 2009

☞ Discrimination?

  • I can't help thinking that we're over-keen to identify minorities and cater to their inability to cope with the real world. Everyone gets discriminated against at some time or another, and it's not fun, but if we react to every possible cause of discrimination society will not function; if we only react to select causes of discrimination that in itself is discrimination too. Th future is CRB checks and internet filetring if we don't demand common sense instead of intervention.
  • A campaign I support. All over the world, the leaders of the analogue world are waking up to the oncoming digital society, hating it and instead of adapting to it, trying to stop it. Australia seems to have become one of the leading test-beds of reactionary policy in this regard, and this is but one more step. And once again, intervention that actually serves the forces of the incumbent is framed as "protecting us".
  • The first rule of GPL compliance is being responsive when Bradley tells you that there's a problem, because he means it. No real surprise to see this lawsuit; most companies I've encountered don't understand the difference between Free software and freeware, mainly because of the name.

Friday Dec 11, 2009

☞ Messing With My Rights

Monday Dec 07, 2009

☞ Unintended Consequences Redux

Sunday Dec 06, 2009

☞ Your Freedom - In Safe Hands?

  • The House of Lords debate uncovered the lack of accountability that has been caused by concentrating so many roles in a single department under Peter Mandelson. The Lords asked "Can so vast a department really be held to account effectively when its only Cabinet minister is here and not in the Commons?" but I'd go further and ask whether such a vast department can in any way be held accountable to Parliament. Lord Mandeson is clearly not a safe pair of hands for our liberty and he is using both of them to grasp it and reserve it to himself.
  • Whether these are a good idea or not for their intended use, the article makes no mention at all of their use by the police to track vehicles for other uses. Everywhere you see the phrase "speed camera" or "safety camera" think "surveillance camera" becuase these are general-purpose video cameras whose use is dictated purely by software. They can be used with great ease for general surveillance, and the more we allow on the streets the less freedom we have as a society, no matter what benefits may be used to justify their initial introduction.

Thursday Nov 26, 2009

☞ Protecting Rights

Tuesday Nov 03, 2009

☞ Copyright Fascists

Friday Jul 24, 2009

☞ Wonderful, but missing the point

Tuesday May 19, 2009

Fighting Fund for the Big WOBber

Burning Gold

You'll remember my recent posting about the fine work journalist Brenno de Winter has been doing in his spare time, bringing a little healing daylight into local government in The Netherlands.

Brenno has been trying to get details of local government procurement published on the web, so that the resulting transparency can drive better decisions. Since most local authorities haven't wanted to do that, he's been filing bulk Freedom of Information requests (the Dutch abbreviation is apparently WOB) to get the data.

The local authorities haven't exactly been helpful. They have been slow, obstructive and have sent image PDFs instead of parseable data. Brenno knows his rights, however, and has pressed the point every time and has seen great results, posting data on his Big WOBber website.

I got a note from him yesterday telling me a new problem has come up. Despite the fact that the local authorities - like all in Europe - have a legal duty to provide the information, they have started sending Brenno big bills for the administrative work involved, in a kind of denial-of-service attack on his campaign.

He's pretty sure that if he takes all the claims to court he can get them struck down, but to do that he needs a fighting fund. There's an event in Amsterdam on June 11th where Scriptum Libre will be raising funds for him, and you can contribute by visiting their payment page and designating Brenno as the beneficiary of your donation. Worth supporting - pass it on.

Thursday Mar 26, 2009

Forcing Dutch procurement to be transparent

You may remember last September I published an interview with crusading Dutch IT journalist Brenno de Winter. During our meeting, we discussed the sorry state of ICT procurement in Europe and the findings from a research group that many tenders illegally specified products rather than technologies.

Brenno decided to do something about it and started a project using Holland's freedom of information act to force disclosure of tenders. I had the chance to meet him again yesterday and to record another dueling podcast (Brenno's version is on his site) discussing his progress so far, especially the collaborative website where. Impressive and unusually energetic and imaginative journalism that I'd like to see elsewhere.

[MP3 | Ogg]

Tuesday Mar 24, 2009

Document Freedom Day 2009

Today is Document Freedom Day, the second year it's been celebrated. We have a great opportunity in front of us this year. With Microsoft promising to support ODF any day now in their latest office suite (and with the ODF plug-in already freely available for their older versions), it will become politically acceptable for organisations everywhere to standardise on ODF for their documents.

This is an important step, because ODF is widely supported and implemented, openly developed and provides a baseline that will be readable for years to come. That protects the ability of future generations to read our documents in just the same way that we are able to read the documents that explain what went on in previous generations.

So what can you do to celebrate? Here are some ideas:

  • Steer your organisation to adopt the Open Document Protocol, with the intent of sharing only widely available and open formats with other organisations.
  • Give a friend a copy of OpenOffice.org
  • Give a friend who's locked in to Microsoft Office a copy of the ODF Plug-in
Happy DFD!

Sunday Feb 22, 2009

"Because our copyrights are worth more than your human rights"

Monday is the last day of the internet blackout campaign organised and in support of it I have blacked out my avatars on Twitter and Facebook as well as on this page. Why? It's to appeal a very badly thought-out law that's been passed in New Zealand, one that the media lobby would love to see introduced in Europe too - it's already been introduced by threats in Ireland and we had a near-miss in the UK and in Germany. We need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the kiwis. If the media lobby gets away with it over there, the rest of us will be picked off one-by-one via the global reach of the WTO and WIPO.

Bad Law

What's wrong with this law? It's not just that companies who built their business by using the commons now want to strangle it (although they hypocritically do want that). It's not that those same companies want their faltering business models shored-up by chilling effects, framing the celebration by their customers of the culture they are trying to create as akin to murder, rape and theft ("piracy"). It's not even that the new law in New Zealand gives a bunch of businesses who have shown themselves to have severely asymmetric morals the power to simply accuse without proof to get results.

Cultural Conduit

No, as I said when I was in Wellington, the problem is much deeper than the campaign against "Guilt Upon Accusation" in New Zealand would suggest. Our society has changed fundamentally in the last decade. The emergence of the world-wide web pushed the Internet from research curiosity into endemic facility, present in every office, then every home and now every pocket.

It is now the medium for culture, for education, for finance, for politics, for engagement with government services. Just this weekend we've seen RyanAir announce that the only way you can fly with them will be if you have an internet connection to check-in as well as to buy the ticket - no more check-in desks. We will increasingly see the Internet be the only way things can be done. Access to the Internet is no longer the casual frippery that this law believes. It is already integral to modern life. It will become a fundamental part of every aspect of our lives, as basic as electricity, telephones or pavements/sidewalks, the primary conduit for democracy, commerce, culture and social interaction.

Disproportionate Punishment

What crime do you have to commit in your country to be forbidden use of electricity (not just disconnected)? To be forbidden use of a phone? To be forbidden to walk on the streets? Yes, the lack of due process in this bad New Zealand law is a worry, but much more of a concern is its calculation that the infringement of a copyright justifies the removal of the main conduit of social engagement from a citizen. This cannot be allowed to stand.

This is not a matter for a "voluntary code of conduct" either. As use of the Internet becomes more complex and more fundamental, it's becoming clear in the UK that the Internet Watch Foundation - a group set up by ISPs so they wouldn't be regulated over every politician's excuse for bad legislation, "protecting children" - is harmful to us all, cracking small nuts with pile drivers and lacking transparency and accountability. It's great New Zealand has a temporary stay on the new law, but the reason - development of a voluntary code of conduct so citizens rights can be repeatably infringed in support of media business models - is still unacceptable, still agrees that citizen access to the internet is worth less than media business models.

It Shall Not Stand If We Stand Together

That's why S92A has to be struck down in New Zealand, why similar laws have to be resisted worldwide and why the media lobby needs to wise up and pipe down. We may not have reached a point where Internet access is an essential right, but it's too close now for us to tolerate its abridgment for any reason or set a precedent we then have to argue to undo. Infringing copyright is not something to be condoned, but there is no sense in which anyone's copyrights are more valuable than our 21st century human rights.

Spot On

Best summary of the New Zealand Blackout that I've seen:

Thursday Sep 27, 2007

Roman Canaries

DFIR Meeting

Today I had the privilege of speaking to a large and distinguished international audience in Rome, DFIR, considering the creation of a "Bill of Rights" for the Internet as a part of the ongoing IGF process. Many presenters spoke about privacy, about access to knowledge, about the need to build on the well-established corpus of wisdom in existing statements on human rights. Listening through the morning, it became apparent that most people were taking for granted the technical basis on which the Internet was created.

Thus in my speech I decided to take the opposite approach, taking as given the obvious need to establish human rights of privacy, access, free speech and non-discrimination and look at the technical foundations. The Internet exists because of three realities - informally constituted but still consistently real. We have to remember the heritage of the net if we are to protect higher-order rights for its future. Those are

  • Open Standards - a Bill of Rights should establish the responsibility to ensure interface interoperability within every layer of the Internet's architecture, including the “application layer” and its myriad file formats, protocols, schemas, and application programming interfaces.
  • Open Source - a Bill of Rights should establish the responsibility to ensure that is it legally, technically and practically possible for software applications to be equally available under both open source and propriety source code models.
  • Open Access - a Bill of Rights should establish the responsibility to ensure the ability of any end-point on the network to connect to any other correctly configured end-point is available to every other end-point without unreasonable obstruction.

The Sentinel Principle

Romulus and Remus

And so to canaries. It struck me during this that Free software plays an important role over and above delivering the liberty to use software one can inspect and alter. It also serves as the canary in the coalmine for the word "Open". Standards are truly open when they can be implemented without fear as Free software in an open source community. Open source communities are very sensitive to and wary of aspects of a standard that limit or otherwise harm their freedom. As the case of SenderID proved, they spot things for which others have a blind spot or have been gamed.

Whether or not you use the Free software itself, if it doesn't exist then the standard you're considering may well involve the sort of harmful, invisible agent that canaries were used to detect in an earlier age. I know there's plenty of discussion about the precise definition of "open standard" - maybe the best approach is not to define it but rather identify when it is not present using a sentinel.

I'd not want to confuse "Open Standards" with "Open Source" - their only link is that open standards implemented as open source create optimum freedom - but this additional sentinel role for software freedom just might be the answer to a tricky semantic issue in the current public policy arena.

No canaries were harmed in the preparation of this posting.

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Thoughts and pointers on digital freedoms and technology markets. With a few photos too.

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